Till 2008, when the National Rural Health Mission was launched to build up the government health system in our villages which was in tatters, the ant had innovated a number of health care initiatives for which it won appreciation and praise. Wanting the government to take responsibility, we stopped the health care provisioning work after NRHM was launched in 2008. We chose instead to focus on Mental Health, an area where we continue working till date.
- Village Pharmacists & Health Workers: 47 Village women selected by the village were trained to handle 30 generic medicines with which they could cure a 100 different illnesses. Some of our health workers saw over 200 patients a month. This programme was a huge relief to far-flung villages with no access to affordable medicines for minor disorders. At its peak, collectively these women saw over 8000 patients at an average cost of Rs.5 a patient!
- Community Blood Testing Labs : Village youth selected by the community were trained as “Lab Technicians” and ran low cost blood testing labs. Again, this was part of a malaria testing-cum-treatment programme which we had designed to bring down the number of malaria cases and deaths. The “lab technicians” collected over 5000 slides in a year and the National Institute of Malaria Research Centre (NIMR) in New Delhi was so impressed that they sent a team to study our over 96% correct identification of malaria parasites by our technicians. We are also proud of the fact that our intervention villages never saw a malaria death.
- Health Diary: The ant’s health diary is perhaps what has given us the maximum amount of publicity and appreciation from all over the country. A mine of information on health with many illustrations, many people confess that they have preserved the diary and refer to it regularly to treat common illnesses! The Info Chart on basic medicines and how to take it, puts health into the hands of people, where it should belong!
Mental illness Treatment Camp
Since there are still no government (or even private) treatment facilities for mentally ill patients in many of our districts, we are continuing with our monthly treatment camps. Around 600-650 patients attend these camps every month, of which around 200-250 are epileptic patients and the rest are with severe mental illness. 35-40 new patients turn up every month.
Most of the patients come from outside of villages we work in – not just from our district but even from neighbouring districts and towns. Though we charge a fee to cover the medicine costs, many hire vehicles and come from even 100 kilometres away! We are advocating for government services so that mental patients can get free and quality treatment for their illness.
Mental Illness is thought to be a “curse” caused by an “evil eye”. People in our villages depend on traditional faith healers for years on end. Modern treatment is not available even when they do not get well with the faith healers. Families struggle to cope with the stigma and the trauma of this so-called “curse”. We started working on mental health in 2007. We started only with providing medical treatment to severely mentally ill patients and those suffering from epilepsy, but slowly have expanded our own understanding of mental health as being beyond medicines.
In 2013, we started a community mental health programme to look at “healing” and not just symptoms management of our patients.