The Constitution of India makes improving public health a primary duty of every state. In accordance with this mandate, 11th Plan (2007-2012) emphasized the need to improve primary health services to the poorest citizens of each state. However, many health problems persist in India as a whole as well as in the state of Tamil Nadu, where BLESS is located.
The 2005-2006 National Family Health Survey found that both infant mortality and under-5 mortality rates (death of infants and children under 5 years of age) remained unacceptably high in India. In these years, the infant mortality rate was 57 per thousand live births; the under-5 mortality rate was 74 per thousand live births. These figures had to be drastically reduced to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of 28 and 41 per thousand live births, respectively. The deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is this year—2015. Unfortunately, the most recent infant and under-5 mortality rates for India remain elevated (41 and 53 per thousand live births.) Although progress has been made, tireless efforts must continue to continue to decrease mortality rates.
India is also among the 25 lower-ranked countries in rates of immunization against the preventable diseases diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. India’s rates of tuberculosis infection (176 cases of tuberculosis per 100.000 people) is 25 times higher than Italy or France. The burden of poor sanitation, high child mortality rates, and communicable disease contribute to reduce life expectancy at birth to 66 years in India, compared to 83 years in Italy and France.
These poor health outcomes can only be the result of poor performance of the primary healthcare service. The Indian government is working to improve the situation, but this does not mean that vulnerable people have to wait for reforms and increased access to trickle down into the villages and tribal regions. We consider it our job as an NGO that cares for peoples’ well being, to provide medical assistance to the needy and vulnerable, to bridge the gap until the general primary health service improves.
BLESS has therefore determined to organize monthly medical camps in Cuddalore District in Tamil Nadu. Nearly half (48.75%) of households in Tamil Nadu are members of poor, vulnerable, and disenfranchised castes and tribes, are disproportionally affected by the failure of the health care system. This is demonstrated by increased infant mortality rates in these castes: 66.4 per thousand live births, compared to 57 per thousand for the population as a whole.
The main role of the medical camp intervention is prevention. Prevention consists of educating people on how to reduce or avoid disease transmission, identifying and treating chronic illnesses to prevent long-term complications, and immunizing children against preventable diseases. Additionally, children attending the camps will receive special attention to increase their awareness and understanding of healthcare. In this way, we can increase health care access and make it a consistent, stable resource used by generations of families who grew up with medical care. Thanks to these camps, people who have rarely or never seen doctors will receive free care and evaluation targeted to their needs. With this increased health care access and awareness among the poorest of the poor, the health of Tamil Nadu as a state can improve over both the short- and long-term.