As per The State of the World’s Children 2019 report by UNICEF, malnutrition caused 69 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India. The report also stated that every second woman is anaemic. Pregnant women in rural India die while giving birth due to lack of proper treatment and lack of medical infrastructure. There is a widespread prevalence of protein energy malnutrition (PEM), anaemia, and Vitamin A deficiency across villages in India. The decline in access to medical professionals is detrimental to the Indian rural healthcare system. There is a growing need for better access to quality primary care for rural communities. To ensure the well-being of the rural population it is imperative to address the needs of sanitation, nutrition, hygiene and create more awareness about the importance of availability of quality medical services.
The rural healthcare is under pressure with the rapid increase of COVID- 19 cases, since the outbreak of pandemic. This is with the backdrop of the largest internal migration of modern times in India, during the lockdown. This has led to spread of the virus followed by a shortage in healthcare services and doctors in the rural areas.
According to a report by the World Bank, India has a significant shortage of trained physicians nationwide as the WHO recommends a physician to population ratio of at least 1:1,000, but India has a ratio of 1:1,674. The relentless service of doctors has helped shape the society’s well-being. The private sector has emerged as a vibrant force in India’s healthcare industry, lending support in terms of providing quality healthcare infrastructure, and skilled medical professionals. With their sustainable community interventions there have been improvement in rural health standards, such as life expectancy, child mortality, infant mortality, and maternal mortality.
Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of TVS Motor Company have undertaken comprehensive measures to address the healthcare needs of local communities across 5000 villages in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh.
The trust operates with 22 medical centres in 6 clusters in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and works at the grassroot-level to offer adequate healthcare service to rural population at an affordable cost. The medical centre provides services to the village residents within 6 – 8 kms radius. It also conducts educative session to build awareness on various health issues including coronavirus, the personal hygiene of the communities, and residents in the villages. Additionally, SST has also been relentlessly working towards strengthening the primary healthcare infrastructure, and services rendered by health centres & sub centres.
SST has been working with dedicated medical professionals to ensure quality, and timely healthcare facilities to the deprived corners of Indian villages. For instance, in Nava Tirupati, the trust has been providing medical services at two centers: Erattai Tirupathi and Perungulam for the last twenty years. Through SST, these doctors have been able to extend their support to those who cannot afford healthcare, across the rural and interior parts of Thoothukudi district. The doctors visit these centres twice-a-week and offer medical services for an entry fee of INR 5 with free consultation, and treatment that is extended to every patient. They administer injections, tablets, and relevant medicines to all patients, as per their clinical requirements.
The healthcare services of SST, at both these centres cover nearly a population of 10,000. In addition, the villagers also face issue to commute in public transport to these healthcare centres, due to their financial situations. This problem is also addressed with doctors visiting the communities so that they don’t have to travel long distance. These doctors have significantly helped in tackling anaemia, and have improved the nutrition level of both children and pregnant women, skin infections, and have also controlled diseases like cholera in these areas.
Apart from this there are several patients with diabetes and hypertension who are under supervision, and are now under absolute control of their ailment. They have benefitted by following the dietary advices given by the centres. Whenever any major problem like cancer or chronic conditions like tuberculosis or leprosy is suspected, the patients are referred to headquarter hospitals immediately for follow ups.
Frequent visits from doctors have been phenomenal in raising more awareness about good hygiene practices and the importance of availing healthcare services in the villages. A shining example of one such doctors is Dr. N Krishna Murthy, who joined government service as Medical Officer at Primary Health Centre at Eral and served between 1974 and 1980. Thereafter he is practicing as a Private Medical Practitioner at Eral, a rural belt in Thoothukudi district. He joined TVS Medical Centre and has been working since its inception at Erattai Tirupati. Medical practitioners like him have been working closely with SST, committed to the mission of improving well-being of rural India. Doctors like him have put in hours and hours of relentless service for the benefit of society. Without the aid of qualified practitioners, the health and wellness of local communities can be at stake and this could result in several outbreaks of communicable diseases.
Doctors and medical practitioners are key to the survival of communities; however, they need to be supported with adequate infrastructure and supplies to provide aid to a larger audience. There is still a dire need to scale up the kind of healthcare facilities rural India has access to. The rural healthcare system is a work in progress and the collaborative efforts by corporates with Government together can pave the way for strengthening the quality of healthcare in India.
Swaran Singh, IAS (R) is the Chairman of the Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social arm of the TVS Motor Company since August, 2018. Before joining SST, Mr. Singh was into public service, where he worked for over three decades. He held significant portfolio in the Government of Tamil Nadu as the Corporation Commissioner in Trichy, District Collector of Tuticorin, and Chairman & MD of TWAD board and Chairman of TNEB. He retired from the Government of Tamil Nadu as Principal Secretary & Commissioner for Industries & Commerce.
SST, founded in 1996, focuses on helping villages develop in a holistic and sustainable manner, creating self-reliant communities across six core areas: Economic Development, Health & Sanitation, Health, Infrastructure, Women Empowerment, Education and Environment. SST partners with government bodies, training institutions, NGOs and other policy makers in over five thousand villages across five states to develop skilled and ‘industry ready’ workforce in different sectors. SST works with government agencies to provide training to unemployed young men and women in project villages. Besides providing vocational training courses, SST also arranges for training in soft skills, language classes, etc. It offers 21 types of vocational training courses to the youth in the project villages. SST offers career guidance and counselling to high school graduates, while making them independent and financially able. The organization has conducted career guidance programmes in 843 high schools.