Even as delayed monsoons and subsequent floods hit Assam, over 2 lakh flood vulnerable people living in the saporis or river islands of the Brahmaputra have been covered with sustained health care for the first time in their lives by the “Boat Clinics” of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES)- National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) partnership’s health initiative.
“ The programme is reaching people who do not have access to health care and NRHM is happy to partner and support it. It is a success story which is being replicated in other parts of the country,” says Dr J B Ekka, Mission Director, NRHM. The disticts covered under this initiative are Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Jorhat, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur,Morigaon, Nalbari, Barpeta and Dhubri.
Villagers in isolated areas say they have benefited from the programme. “This is the first such health intervention here and my community will give full support to the health team,” says Galung Pegu, the elderly village headman of Lakhimpur’s Kankan sapori while assuring the health team of the Lakhimpur Boat Clinic.
At Sonitpur’s Lanke Char, 24 year old Fozilla Begum was the first from her area to have an institutional delivery in Tezpur’s Kanaklata Civil Hospital.A beaming Fozilla says, “I was motivated by the Boat Clinic’s health team and my joy knew no bounds when I delivered a baby girl and also availed of the monetary benefits provided by the government for the same” She adds “But for the health team I would have never known about these government incentives”
The health teams work under difficult conditions battling floods and erosion in the monsoons and shallow routes and long walking distances to remote villages in winters and are bringing in newer inaccessible areas under the ambit of the health camps every month with active support from the local community. 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 initiatives which is implemented through health teams on specially designed and built boat clinic which have not just medical personnel on board but also a lab and pharmacy. NRHM funds the activities of the project.
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.
According to Jeroo Master, Chief, Field Office, UNICEF, Assam “What started as a single district pilot, conceptualized by C-NES and supported by UNICEF, to respond to the unmet health needs of marginalized communities living on the flood-prone islands of the Brahmaputra in Assam, has now evolved into a sustainable and replicable strategy covering 10 districts of the State with full buy-in of NRHM Assam.”
“At a time of distress and difficulty, the project is showcasing an innovative and effective idea and practice that can be exported from Assam instead of the usual bad news,” says Sanjoy Hazarika, C-NES’ Managing Trustee and eminent writer who conceptualized the programme.