Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pregnant women trek miles to reach doctor

Annu Anand
DEVLI (Tehri Garwal): About 24 km from Mussoorie one of Uttaranchal’s most enchanting hill stations, is the picturesque little town of Dhanaulti. Situated among lush green forests and surrounded by sky kissing mountains, Dhanaulti has a special place on the tourist map. There is nothing that the place lacks in the name of comfort. High altitude seems to have ensured for it a high level of luxury too. But villages like Divali, Chandaukhi Khaniri and Dande ki Beli, located just 2 km to 6 km down the valley, have not seen even the ‘D’ of development. All these villages form part of the village assembly of Dande ki Beli. But the entire area lacks any kind of roadway. Narrow, zig-zag pathways created after clearning the mountains are the only way of reaching these villages.
Going down 2 km over uneven, narrow path in four hours, one comes across a skinny woman called Bindra who is feeding fodder to her cattle. Thirty-year-old Bindra has lost two children in childbirth’. She was married when she was only 18. Two years after the wedding, she had a son but he survived for only one month. Next year, she again gave birth to a girl child, but she too could barely survive for one month. Now her only dream in life is to be the mother of a healthy child. But this dream will probably remain a dream for her because she has been told by doctors in Dehra Dun that quack medication and inexperienced hands at childbirth have resulted in a shift in the position of her uterus.
Says a sad Bindra, "Having been born in the mountains, we will have to live with all this. Who will come here to treat the patients? If you are ill you will have to bear the consequences also."
Bindra’s father, 50-year-old Commander Singh, informs that there is a government clinic in Dhanaulti but in case of need nothing is available there also.
Commander’s family survives on the vegetables that it grows on a piece of land just outside the house. The vegetables are laden on to mules and then taken up to Dhanaulti. After cutting fodder, feeding it to cattle, collecting wood from the jungle, arranging for drinking water and cooking the food, the women here have to depend solely on kitchen remedies for whatever big or small ailment that they may have.
Kundana Devi, 67, says that all the childbirths in this area take place at home. The elder women of the village perform this job. At times the help of a midwife is also taken. Neither the child nor the mother is ever given any kind of injection.
Pointing towards her five grandchildren, aged between two and eight, she says none of them was ever given any injection.
According to Sona Devi, children here are born in God’s name and in God’s name do they grow up.
In case of a difficult pregnancy one has to go to a hospital either in Dehra Dun or Mussoorie. That calls for an expenditure of at least Rs 7,000-8,000 which is often unaffordable. To go to a hospital one has to first walk over risky terrain till Dhanaulti and from there catch a bus which comes just once a day. So many infants thus die in their mother’s womb.
There is a sub-medical center in Dhanaulti, which is meant for villages from Devali to Dande ki Beli and even beyond, but in the absence of any form of a connecting road none of the villagers is ever able to reach there and neither are the nurses able to reach the villages.
Traversing a distance of 10 km from here one reaches Uniyal, which comes under Tehri district of the Garhwal region. There are 120 families living here in Saklana Patti. Inside a mud house, one meets 25-year-old Madhu, who, with her two-day old baby, is lying in the corner of a dark room. The whole room is full of smoke emanating from the Chulha. Eyes start burning and then watering because of the smoke as soon as one enters the room. But amidst the claustrophobia, Madhu is busy trying to nurse her child. Her mother-in-law is worried whether even this grandson of hers would be able to survive or not.
Madhu has so far given birth to two children, but neither lived beyond a month. She does not know the reason. Neither Madhu nor her child were immunised. To get a shot of injection we have to travel 7 km to Satya village, says Madhu. The bus goes there but just once a day. Hence, most of the time one has to just walk the entire distance. No nurse ever visits the village.
An educated (till class XII) Mira Uniyal, who has come here to her mother house from old Tehri says that the problem is not just in Uniyal village. All the 40-42 villages of Saklana Patti, are suffering due to lack of medical facilities. The primary health centre is 7 km away. Government nurses do not go to the villages. Till sometime back, there was not even a trained midwife in the village. Private nurses take a fee for delivery. Tehri Mira has a nurse near her house who charges Rs 500 for a delivery and Rs 20 for checkup.
About 30 km from Mussoorie, all the villages that fall midway to the famous Sarkanda Devi, are facing the scarcity of not just water, electricity and schools but also medical facilities. These villages of the Tehri region are miles away from the Safe Motherhood Programme of the government. The Government is supposed to be spending lakhs and crores on schemes which entail registration of pregnant women, providing them nutritious food and inoculating the children, but in reality the exact opposite is happening. Children are not just being born the old way, they are also surviving the old way. A medical centre is at least six hours from many of the villages. But even after reaching there what one gets is iron capsules or sundry tablets for select ailments. In cases of emergency, pregnant women or ill people have to be lifted on cots or mules till Dhanaulti, from where a bus has to be boarded to cover a distance of 22 km till the Mussoorie hospital.
The situation is better in villages which are connected by road. But here too childbirth is mostly a home affair. A Rural Child Health (RCH) programme had begun in this region in 1997 with the aim of providing pre and post-natal medical facilities so that the mother could be assisted in delivering a healthy child through safe and healthy method.
B.S. Negi, a retired government official residing 4 km away from Uniyal in Majhgaon, says that Saklana Patti has but one health centre and one ayurvedic dispensary. The nearest hospital is 60-70 km away. Nowhere here is a facility available for check-up of the ailing. Numerous women and newborns keep dying everyday, of which there is no record in government files.
Health officials in the Tehri region blame the paucity of facilities on staff shortage.
But the foremost thing that the women of the hills need for a healthy life is roads connecting them with the rest of the world. What also needed are mobile dispensaries which can penetrate far-flung areas and provide help where it is most needed.

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