Need health facilities, not the awards

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 08:10 hrs

While inaugurating the health summit 'India's Call to Action - Child Survival and Development Summit' in Chennai on 7th February'13, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad said that India will be in the forefront of the war against child deaths and ensure that no child dies owing to causes that can be prevented.

"India will remain in the forefront of the war against child deaths and do everything that it takes to ensure that no child dies of a cause that can be prevented," Azad said while inaugurating the health summit.

In the undulating terrain of Noona Bandi Village, tucked away in the hilly region of the Pir Panjal Range, fourteen kilometers from Poonch town in the Jammu region, lives a young mother who wants to request the minister to accelerate the fight so that no other mother has to go through the pain she has suffered. Her dream of holding a new life in her arms was crushed. Her only fault: she lives in one of the most geographically difficult and remote regions of our country, where, to reach the motorable road - an incomplete one at that - it takes nearly half an hour of tossing about in the winding hills.

Six months ago, twenty eight year old Fatima Bi, in her ninth month of pregnancy, suddenly felt the labor pains coming on and informed her husband Mohammad Aslam. Aslam immediately walked out of the house to look out for help. The houses in the village are scattered over the hillside with no dispensary or primary health care center for emergencies.

As he did not own a vehicle, he requested the local driver from the village to meet him at the motorable road, about half an hour's trek from his house, so she could be taken to the District Hospital in Poonch Town. He was in for a nasty surprise. The driver refused to show up, demanding two thousand rupees at that critical moment - and extra for petrol. The destitute couple had nothing to offer him.

According to the "Maa Tujhe Salaam" scheme that was launched by the Jammu and Kashmir Government on 26th January 2011, free hospital services are to be provided to all pregnant women and children up to the age of five years which includes free transport from home to health institutions. In blatant violation of the scheme, there was no ambulance or even the information regarding the same to help the couple. A helpless Fatima, writhing in pain, held on to Aslam's hand and the couple started the trek down the road towards the hospital. Before they could reach, the unborn child was no more.

Fatima is not the only one in the village who has suffered due to lack of basic infrastructural facilities in the state. Entire communities living in the tough topography have at some point lived such harrowing moments. Zulakha, a resident of the adjoining Bandichichain Village, shared the suffering of her sister-in-law, Razia Kausar. "This year on 16th October, Razia complained of severe pain in her abdomen at two in the morning. Our family members called the ambulance but, with no hope of it turning up, they looked for a local driver or any source of transport but failed. As there is no dispensary in the village, she had to suffer the entire night and could be taken to the hospital only the next day."

The pain has been the villagers' fate for several years now. Availability of two major facilities will play a major role in bringing change in the lives of this forgotten lot - one is of course the immediate help required in terms of a dispensary or a Primary Health Center; and the second, road connectivity. "There are nine hundred and fifty homes in our village with a total population of over six thousand in ten wards. We have such stories to share from every house. We all need solutions. We need connectivity and of course the Dispensary," said Aamina Bi of Bandichichain Village.

The Government invests several crores of rupees for improving the lives of the rural and the marginalized communities. In this case, for example, a road exists officially up to Bandichichain Village under the 'Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana'. To support the claim, there is a sign board flaunting the date of completion as 29th April 2008, just a step away from the "Kuccha Raasta" that leads to the village. Any one visiting the village can figure where the problem lies. It is time the administrators had a look to check whether the money is being spent in the right direction.

During his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in November 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced a Reconstruction Plan for the state involving an outlay of Rs.24000 crores. A part of this project was devoted to the overall development in Poonch District under the project title "Development of Poonch" which was to be implemented by the Poonch Development Authority.

For the infrastructural development of the region Rs. 243.52 Lakhs was sanctioned and released by the Central Government in 2006-07. The status of the project on record is complete while the life of the people in these remote villages continues to be miserable without the basic requirement of health care facilities and road connectivity.

Developing a half road or a basic dispensary would only cover up the problem, not solve the issue. An understanding of the geography and the need of the people surviving in this forgotten region is required to get to the root of the matter and then design an action plan.

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that spending money thoughtlessly in the name of development will only fetch the state the awards (like the one it received in November 2012 for Best Health Care Service award from India Today conclave) while doing little for the rural and disadvantaged people of the state. By Kajal Kazmi and Mehnaz Akhter (ANI)

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