As part of my internship with IDEX partner, AarogyaSeva, I was fortunate enough to be part of 2016 Medical Yatra in Gujarat in connection with the following organisations:
Association of Indian Physicians of Northern Ohio (AIPNO)
Action Research in Community Health (ARCH)
Rotary Club of Dharampur
It brought 37 both medical professionals and general volunteers from USA, UK, India and Australia in conjunction with local health workers, Rotarians and ARCH workers. We had with us a mix of internal/family doctors, emergency physicians, paediatricians, obstetrics/gynaecologists, dentists and an orthopaedic surgeon. Apart from seeing the patients we also conducted CPR and dental hygiene education sessions as well as have patients take part in blood pressure research.
We were split into 2 groups each visiting 5 locations over 5 days seeing up to 1,000 patients daily and ~4,000 patients in total. (The exact numbers are still to be finalised.) People come from nearby villages and many waited patiently for several hours to be seen. At each spot we spent 4-8 hours depending on the number of patients that presented. For some of us we stepped into unfamiliar roles of dental, paediatric, gynaecology or pharmacy assistants, whilst others had to recall prior knowledge to diagnose, prescribe and dispense medications. All of us had to improvise with limited supplies and diagnostic tools whilst working in a team to provide the best possible outcome.
Each stop was unique with a different variety of diagnosis and facilities. On some days it took us only about 30 minutes to get there and on others over 90 minutes across dirt roads. The majority of time we were situated within the local school which meant the kids had a disruptive day and were free to interact with the group, be seen by paediatricians or dentists and/or attend educational sessions being run. Regardless of where we were, the locals were all very welcoming and patient. It was heartwarming to see some of the older children assist with translation, directing people and/or helping the older patients to where they needed to go.
Undernutrition was massive problem with 14-16 year old teenagers looking like they were 9-10 years old. The adults on the other hand looked much older than they should be due to physical outdoor labour with in many cases extremely high blood sugars and blood pressures.
Language was a massive issue with local tribal languages being spoken in many instances as opposed to Gujarati or Hindi which become a case requiring up to 3 interpreters sometimes depending on the translator and Doctor.
All who came were strong, happy and didn’t complain about the wait or their lot in life with physical examinations easy due to the lack of fat (many of those in their 40s/50s had six pack abs!)
Biggest issues were undernutrition, undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes, goitres, cataracts, dry skin and cavities
Introduction of fluoride, reduced salt and sugar diets and iodised salt would greatly assist these communities as part of preventable health schemes
Girls were particularly shy with all being curious particularly around the tall Americans, our smart phones and cameras
Outcomes from 2016 Medical Yatra
Recommendations to reduce cavities and improve teeth health particularly in children to be provided to local government officials
ARCH has committed to follow up patients seen including scheduling of 33 cataract surgeries
A piece for AJ+ (on online news and current events channel by Al Jazeera Media Network AJMN) is being finalised. We will advise once this is completed.
All of us came with open hearts, warm smiles, positive and flexible attitudes and a sense of humour but left with so much more. We have much to learn from each other and language is not a barrier.
I would highly recommend going on Medical Yatra as it is so much more than volunteering with an amazing bunch of people and seeing the countryside and interacting with the locals in a unique way, as it includes component of spirituality as we stayed at Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur and we were even fortunate enough to have an audience with Baba Pujya Gurudevshri Rakeshbhai. More about the Ashram and their work is here: http://www.shrimadrajchandramission.org/
AIPNO was founded in 1983 and is a non-profit membership organisation of physicians of Indian origin in Northern Ohio. It has membership of 300 physicians and have they organised Medical Yatras since 2001. They have provided aid to Mexico, Haiti, Peru, Ecuador, Uganda, Kenya, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Burundi and India. What is amazing is that the volunteers who came were in the late 60s and 70s who were either semi retired or retired. Visit their website http://www.aipno.org/ for more information.
ARCH currently provides provides primary health care services to approximately 25,000 patients along with basic health education and preventative services such as vaccinations and prenatal care. In addition they provide movie health camps in surrounding villages. More about them can be found here: http://www.archgujarat.org/