CHENNAI: On World Health day, this year’s theme is Health For All. It is a daunting goal for every country in the world, and one that no society can afford to shy away from. In a developing country like India, this is a giant task given the pressure of a population of 1.3 billion people. To make health for all happen, everyone including companies, individuals and communities must work together.
Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social arm of TVS Motor Company, and Sundaram Clayton, works with more than 3 million villagers in India to ensure health for all by engaging with the community, and with government agencies.
For SST, better health is a continuous area of improvement. For the 21 years that it has been serving rural India, the aim of SST has been not just to get healthcare to the underserved, but also to ensure they are able to lead healthier, disease-free lives. It also involves bringing down mortality rates among the vulnerable.
Infant mortality in SST villages is down to less than 1 per 1000 births, vs the national average of 34. Maternal mortality is down to 9.6 per 100,000 live births vs the national average of 167.
The SST model starts by educating communities on better hygiene. Children at schools in our villages are taught simple but effective habits such as washing their hands properly. Mothers attend nutrition camps which teaches them the benefits of a balanced diet, and routine health camps spot common deficiencies.
In SST assisted villages, 5000 of them, women in particular are routinely tested for anaemia, a debilitating but easily manageable condition that often goes undetected. Women in our village communities are taught how to grow vegetables rich in iron in their home gardens, and balwadis, so they can take care of their nutritional needs. Our antenatal and postnatal camps have vastly improved the health of our women and children as has 100 percent immunization.
SST also enlists the help of villagers in keeping the environment clean. This means that in some of India’s remote villages, where SST works, households do not just dispose off their garbage every day, they segregate waste and recycle organic waste. The impact of such measures can be felt by the villagers themselves— they battle less disease, especially infectious ones, and have greater awareness about easily treatable conditions. Their healthcare costs have fallen.
‘’We lay a huge emphasis on better health because the overall result is greater productivity in our communities,’’ says Venu Srinivasan, Managing Trustee, SST. ‘’Any loss of productive incomes in these families can cripple them, let alone the additional cost of healthcare.’’
Better health has far reaching consequences. In one of the SST enabled health camps, a promising student who was falling behind in class, was found to have developed short-sightedness. As soon as the student got corrective eyeglasses, she was able to see the blackboard clearly and her overall performance shot up. So, the camp prevented her from dropping out of school.
None of this work would be possible without the help of public facilities and services such as primary healthcare centres. Several of these centres face bottlenecks ranging from staff shortage to lack of access. SST helps bridge the gap between available public healthcare and its delivery to the needy, through a range of small but effective steps. This includes keeping primary healthcare centres in good shape, improving their infrastructure and ensuring that healthcare workers are able to get to the villages where their help is most needed. Around 86 percent of our villages have safe drinking water and 542,000 toilets have been built in households, under the government’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, preventing open defecation. We see these as small ways to make rural India thriving, disease-free communities.