At a time when inadequate health facilities in rural areas are struggling to cope with the second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic, Maya Vishwakarma from Narsinghpur district in Madhya Pradesh, runs a 10-bed healthcare centre out of her home since March this year, where she dispenses basic health care and treatment for fevers, colds and coughs.
Rural India was spared, relatively speaking, when the first wave of the COVID19 pandemic hit the country last year. But the second wave has been unsparing as it has engulfed village after village.
“At first it was just a couple of cases of fever. But soon almost every household had three to four people ill in it,” Maya Vishwakarma, told Gaon Connection.
Her village, Mehragaon, in Narsinghpur district in Madhya Pradesh, bordering Raisen and Hoshangabad districts, lies 100 kilometres away from the district’s largest government hospital, she said. “The PHC [Primary Health Centre] too, that is at least 15 kms away, has neither medicines nor doctors to dispense them,” she said.
The gravity of the situation pushed Vishwakarma, who is the founder of non-profit Sukarma Foundation, into doing something about it and, in March this year, she put 10 beds in her own home and opened a small facility right there for preliminary treatment of fevers, colds and coughs.
“The big hospitals had neither beds nor enough doctors. I realised that many of the cases in the villages were still mild, and with timely medical intervention, they could be treated,” Vishwakarma said.
While Vishwakarma is not a doctor herself, she was a research fellow in nuclear medicine, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.
Vishwakarma, who has lived for many years in the United States (her husband still works there), said it was her dream to serve the village where she was born.
“My village has no health facilities at all. Even the closest PHC is fifteen kilometres away,” she told Gaon Connection. There have been several instances while patients have died before reaching a medical facility, she added.
At the 10-bedded healthcare centre, Vishwakarma continues to receive patients without charging any fee. “Barring the cost of a few medicines, we do not take any money,” she said. “Mostly adivasis frequent my hospital and I did not want them to hesitate coming here just because they have no money,” she explained.
Ganesh Namdeo from Saas Bahu Banskheda village, 20 kilometres away, is one such beneficiary. “My wife Aarti developed a fever and I brought her here to Mehragaon,” he told Gaon Connection. She was administered glucose, given an injection and kept under observation for a while before she was discharged, he said. He was charged only Rs 300 for the medicines that were given to Aarti there and to be taken at home, he explained.
Before setting up the 10-bed healthcare centre this March, about one and a half years ago, Viswakarma set up a tele-medicine centre in her village to provide basic health facilities to the people of her village and those nearby. But when symptoms of fevers, colds and coughs began showing up in the second wave of the pandemic, she decided to use her resources and offer basic treatment to the village inhabitants at a time no hospital or doctors were available to them.
“I already had oximeters and basic medication; alongwith two nurses I told people how to self isolate, and just regular and timely monitoring of the oxygen levels and temperature helped them a lot,” she said. She also organised an oxygen concentrator at the centre.
Since 2016, Vishwakarma has been running Sukarma Foundation that deals with women’s health and hygeine. When the second wave of the pandemic began and the fevers began, along with volunteers from the foundation, she began to work in the villages, spreading awareness and urging people to report fevers, colds and coughs.
Last year, too, during the first wave of the pandemic, Vishwakarma and her team of 10 volunteers had helped the migrant workers who were returning home to their villages. They distributed free rations and extended all the help they could to them.
“I developed a strong network in the villages which came in handy this year. We were kept informed of households which had family members complaining of fevers, etc,” Vishwakarma explained. “My healthcare centre has equipment to administer drips to patients, provide them with steaming facilities, and so far many people have found relief,” she claimed.
Vishwakarma has through her telemedicine centre, has provided medical consultation to the patients who come there. “I also have doctor friends who are on call to provide help in emergencies,” she informed Gaon Connection.
So far the initiative of setting up the hospital and running it has been funded by Sukarma Foundation and her well wishers.
“We have worked hard in the last two months and our effort is to ensure no one falls sick and if they do, they are treated quickly, and they need not travel great distances to get themselves looked at,” Vishwakarma said. “If people did not hide their symptoms [of COVID] and got treated early enough, most of them would recover,” she concluded.