The unique partnership between the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES) and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) covering a health initiative has completed a year and covered close to 1.5 lakh persons on the saporis of the Brahmaputra in 10 districts who were earlier without sustained health care.
The focus of the Public-Private Partnership, which began in March 2008, has been women and children although the general population also benefits from the initiative which is implemented through health teams on specially designed and built boat clinics, which have not just medical personnel on board but also a lab and pharmacy. NRHM funds the activities of the project and villagers in isolated areas say they have benefited from the program.
At Dibrugarh’s Aichung sapori, Mogen Missong, an elderly Mishing community leader is” very happy” with the health camps in his remote village. “Earlier we had to spend a whole day to even reach the nearest health centre,” he added. Galung Pegu , the village headman from Lakhimpur’s Kankan sapori, was pleased to see the Boat Clinic. “This is the first ever such health intervention here and my community will give full support to the health team” he assured the team members.
The first five districts were Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Morigaon and Dhubri while five more were added in January 2009: Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Nalbari and Barpeta. The goal is to reach 10 lakh persons or one third of the flood-vulnerable population of the state by 2010.
With vast parts of rural Assam still deprived of modern health infrastructure, C-NES’ boat clinics have brought succour to vulnerable communities in riverine areas who remain untouched by development activities. UNICEF is also involved in Dibrugarh district (since 2006) where the organization began its innovative work in 2005 and is assisting with capacity building and training as well as an education outreach programme for children who have dropped out of school or never been at school. It partners C-NES in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur districts. Solar Ice Line Refrigerators (ILR) and tents for the Boat Clinics have also recently been contributed by UNICEF.
The cost of five vessels has been donated by the well known economic columnist Swaminathan S Aiyar, and Oil India Limited is another supporter, having funded the construction of the Jorhat boat clinic as part of its golden jubilee celebrations this year.
“The Boat clinic initiative has established healthcare as an institution in the chars/saporis of Assam. The partnership with C-NES has resulted in the overall improvement of delivering healthcare to the isolated communities, especially with immunization of women and children” said Dr J B Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM.
C-NES’ Managing Trustee, Sanjoy Hazarika, who conceptualized the program says that the outreach is beyond his expectations. “We began with a simple idea, with one ship, in one district – Dibrugarh,” says Hazarika. “Today, the implementation of the programme in 10 districts with a staff of nearly 130 with 20 doctors and to nurses and paramedics as well as the unstinted support we have received from NRHM shows that truly there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come; we are delivering not just health care but enabling people to access their basic right to a better quality of life.”