Boat clinics deliver health services to people in far-flung char villages
Nalbari, July 11: Amid pouring monsoon rain, men, women and children run alongside the torrential Brahmaputra, waving at people in white coats on a boat. This is their boat of hope - a floating clinic, equipped with basic medical facilities and manned by doctors and paramedics taking healthcare to people in far-flung island villages that are deprived of it.
“Come here! We have many patients, old and feeble, women and children!” said Rakibur Hussain, one of the island dwellers. But the clinic was on its way to another island close by, where a health camp had been organized.
Hussain was disappointed but not for long. After a quick discussion, a paramedic on the boat clinic screamed back, “We will come back, pick up your patients, and take them to the health camp in Baleswar (the other island). Is that ok?”
The small crowd at the embankment cheered back. For the nearly three million people on the 2,500 islands on the Brahmaputra, amongst Asia’s largest rivers, the floating clinics are literally their lifeline.
With hospitals a far cry and communication made even worse during floods, the unique initiative of boat clinics by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (CNES) is a ray of hope for the most vulnerable communities of Assam living on the saporis or islands of the Brahmaputra. The journey of these ships of hope, as they are popularly known, began in 2005, with a single boat called Akha (or hope) in Dibrugarh district of upper Assam. The initiative got the support of the district health authorities.
The successful intervention in reaching out to the marginalised, rural communities got the attention and support of Unicef and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Assam, resulting in a public-private partnership (PPP) and the subsequent spread of the boat clinic programme to 13 districts of the state with 15 boats.
“We need innovative but simple approaches based on the knowledge of those who know best, the river dwellers and the host makers, because they can understand the river better than anyone else,” said CNES founder Sanjoy Hazarika, who designed, developed and implemented the boat clinics before establishing the partnership with the NRHM.
“That’s how the boat clinics started . By listening to people’s concerns, tapping their expertise, applying better technology and later, a partnership with the principal stakeholder from small beginnings to an extraordinarily large impact in 13 districts, reaching over eight lakh persons in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra,” he added. (IANS) To be continued