February 2008 Medical Yatra 2008 In mid January doctors belonging to the ‘American Association of Indian Doctors in North Ohio’ (AIPNO) traveled, together with some assistants to Orissa in India, in order to participate in the 16 Health Camps held in remote villages. Their purpose was to give concrete and free medical assistance to people who cannot otherwise afford a medical consultation. Doctors and their helpers paid for all travel expenses themselves.
The so called ‘Medical Yatra’ (Yatra means journey) had been prepared for 4 months by our local partner organization, Prajnana Mission. During that period the selection of 16 villages took place. As a preliminary test, some smaller Health Camps were held with the established team of doctors of the Prajnana Mission so as to get to know better, the local situation and conditions. To each village, 10 additional ones were allocated. All participating villages offered volunteer helpers to assist the Medical Yatra. In comparison to our regular Health Camps, which are held every month, more people could be treated during the Medical Yatra because of the presence of medical specialists like gynecologists, pediatricians, internists, surgeons and pathologists. Publicity immediately prior to the Medical Yatra, contained information about the event and ensured that many patients with the most diverse ailments arrived at the Camps to be medically treated.
The Medical Yatra began on 20th January. Starting from that day, two parallel-running Health Camps were held every day for one week. The American doctor team with its assistants were divided into two groups and taken by bus in the early morning to the respective villages. In addition, reinforcements arrived from Prajnana Mission – doctors, apothecaries, laboratory technicians and helpers. During the first days, newly-qualified young doctors from the Medical College in Puri, served as interpreters, translating from the regional language Oriya into English, and vice versa, in order to avoid misunderstandings between patients and doctors.
Temperatures are relatively cool during the Indian winter mornings and tend to become spring-like and warmer during the day. It rained a few times. Once, the rain was so heavy the night before that on the following morning the bus got stuck in the mud on its way to the camp. Doctors and helpers had to continue their journey to the village on foot while carrying boxes with medicines. Fortunately they had only to cover a distance of 500m!
The villages, which were visited during the following days, were located in the district of Puri. All were distant from any infrastructure and some were difficult to reach – ‘in the middle of nowhere’, in the jungle. In each village doctors and helpers were greeted cordially and in some cases, the village youths formed a guard of honor before the camp was opened, with a solemn ritual.
The village school buildings served almost always as the ‘doctors’ house’. Classrooms were transformed, by simple means, into doctors’ practices and a small ‘pharmacy’ was added to the temporary hospital. The voluntary helpers in the villages solved all arising problems, discretely and quickly. In the classrooms it was often very dark so that it was necessary to improvise. In one village additional tents were put up where doctors could receive the patients. At the entrances to each consulting room, signs were affixed indicating the ‘Pediatrician’, ‘Gynecologist’ and ‘Pathologist’. The doctors from the USA and India adapted very quickly to these changing circumstances and made the best out of them. The pharmacy was situated, most of the time, in a small storage room.
The apothecary, together with some medical helpers, arranged proficiently all the assortment of tablets, suspensions and creams that then had to be distributed quickly to the queuing patients.
After all doctors and assistants had taken their places, at 9 o’clock crowds of patients started to arrive. Everybody had first to be registered: name, age, and gender were recorded on a card, which the patient had to submit to the doctor.
In the ’Pathology’ room all elderly patients had their blood sugar levels tested. (It was found that out of 60 patients usually 10 had a high blood sugar level). Then their blood pressure was tested. In case of anomalies the patients were referred to the corresponding specialist.
Patient cards served as referral, giving the diagnosis, and the prescribed medicines, which then had to be collected at the pharmacy. Patients with more serious and chronic ailments were transferred for further free treatments to our Health Center in Balighai near Puri.
Whether patients will ever make it to the Health Center does not depend on the doctors, but on their journey and travel conditions, which are, from some areas, very difficult. Also, people often don’t have the money to pay for the bus journey.
For many hours, doctors and helpers had not one quiet minute. Every day 700 people were medically treated in each camp. On one occasion there were more than 1,000 people in a camp! This way nearly 12,000 people from 150 villages could be medically treated during the whole Medical Yatra!
In the meantime, an analyst had a look around the respective villages. In the first rows, left and right from the main village road, the houses were solid, made of stone, colorful and had some religious symbols. In the second and third rows the houses were simple straw and clay huts. The inhabitants were all very open and they insisted on giving him a guided tour through the whole village. When an oxcart crossed his way he thought he was in another era. People lived in very simple conditions and seemed, despite this or maybe because of this, happy and easy-going. Nevertheless the poverty in some villages was really appalling. The little money they had is just enough for the strict necessities so journeys to the nearest city to consult a doctor are impossible. People are therefore all the more happy about the Health Camps.
Thirteen doctors and 15 medical assistants from the USA, together with 15 helpers from the region, and countless volunteers, ensured that help could be given to all those people who possess almost nothing, but who, despite their illness, were irradiating happiness and confidence. The most occurring diagnoses were dengue fever and worm infestation, both due to poor living conditions. Some patients, including children, who visited the camp, were seriously ill and needed, urgently, one or more surgical operations, e.g. two babies had no anus and one woman was suffering from untreated breast cancer, at an advanced stage. The Prajnana Mission, some American doctors and Hand in Hand are trying to find the necessary financial means needed for those really serious cases.
After each Camp, volunteers from the village prepared a meal, and there under the palm trees, doctors and helpers exchanged experiences whilst tasting the local traditional dishes.
Interested people were then able to make excursions to nearby areas, for instance, to the sea or to the sun temple at Konak.During a solemn ceremony on the last day, all participants were handed, by P.Prajnanananda, the President of Prajnana Mission, a certificate for their selfless service.
One of the American doctors was so taken with the previous days that he decided to return to India after his retirement, in order to work as a surgeon for our Health Centers!The slide show conveys the overall picture and impressions of the Medical Yatra 2008.