The “journey to health” is still a long one

People cannot access adequate medical care in impoverished rural regions of India. We are helping physicians and pharmacists in India through the Swasthya Yatra initiative to provide training and medicines.

PROGRAM HELPS PHYSICIANS IN RURAL INDIA

When Dr. Singh Chauhan opens the wooden door of his small clinic at around 10 a.m., the sun has already begun transforming the village of Takia Patan in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, into a furnace. The heat makes the air shimmer. A hot, dry wind blows meter-high clouds of dust along the bumpy village street, past open shops that sell practically everything imaginable, from plastic chairs to bright yellow pumpkins. Cars, cyclists, moped riders, and pedestrians navigate their way through a colorful throng of people without following any recognizable rules. It’s unclear whether a dog lying on the edge of the road is simply asleep or was run over. A few sluggish birds sit in the tree in front of Chauhan’s medical practice.    

Training and medicine for India’s health

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is helping physicians and pharmacists in India through the Swasthya Yatra initiative, which mainly provides advanced training and medicines. This step is just the beginning.

Electricity is available only ten hours a day

This is the setting in which Dr. Chuahan, a 59-year-old physician in rural India, has been treating patients in Takia Patan for the past 35 years. Big hospitals, medical specialists, and modern medical devices are available in places such as Delhi or the regional capital of Lucknow — a city of 2.8 million, located around 90 kilometers from Takia Patan. But such things don’t exist here, where water comes from a pump in the courtyard and electricity flows from the socket for just ten hours a day.

The only medical care provided here comes from Dr. Chauhan. Anyone who is ill goes to him. And he does what he can. Yet the possibilities treatments open to him here in India are sometimes very limited. 

“Almost 70 percent of India’s population lives in rural areas,” says Neetu Srivastava, Marketing Manager for Community Care at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in Mumbai. “These people have very limited access to medical care. Physicians and pharmacists in rural areas often don’t have the latest medical training and they have very little information about new medical developments as they relate to medicines and therapies.”

Dr. Singh Chauhan is the only physician in Takia Patan. Dr. Singh Chauhan is the only physician in Takia Patan.

Dr. Singh Chauhan is the only physician in Takia Patan.

Aid project assists 3,000 physicians in India

In order to help out here, the company launched the unique Swasthya Yatra program.

 in 2012. The program’s name means “journey to health.” In addition to providing further training to physicians and pharmacists in places such as Takia Patan, the program keeps medical professionals up-to-date about the latest medical developments and, if they wish, supplies them with free drug samples. “Through Swasthya Yatra, we are helping around 3,000 physicians and 1,000 pharmacists in the predominantly rural states of Uttar Pradesh, Madyha Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar,” says Srivastava. To provide this service, specially equipped “health vans” drive along 50 routes every two months. The vehicles contain a video system, a flat-screen monitor, posters, information material, and medicines.

At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, in India, Gyan Prakash Sharma, Regional Marketing Manager for Community Care, is responsible for the greater Lucknow region. The program serves around 50 medical professionals in this area, including 15 on the southern route alone. Among them is Dr. Singh Chauhan, as Takia Patan is part of the region. 

The training courses are invaluable for me.

dr. singh chauhan

Physician in Takia Patan

Two million children under the age of five die each year

Dr. Chauhan is a respected member of the community. He wears glasses, a white shirt, blue trousers, and brown shoes when he receives patients at his practice on the village street of Takia Patan.

Dr. ChauhanHis practice doesn’t have separate waiting and examination rooms. The patients simply sit on rough wooden benches in the entrance area. Dr. Chauhan sits somewhat farther back behind a small desk on which he stacks packages of tablets and medicine vials. A stethoscope hangs from his neck. A total of 12 people have come today: couples, men, old women, and mothers with children. The men wear well-worn, loose-fitting pants and shirts, while the women are dressed in saris.    

Dr Chauhan’s patients sit on rough wooden benches in the entrance area of his practice. Dr Chauhan’s patients sit on rough wooden benches in the entrance area of his practice.

Dr Chauhan’s patients sit on rough wooden benches in the entrance area of his practice.

Everyone wears sandals on their bare feet. From the ceiling hangs an old, wooden fan that slightly circulates the humid air. The patients approach the desk when they are called. They describe their complaints to the doctor, who takes their pulse, palpates swelling, listens to their lung sounds, and distributes tablets. For most of the people here, this simple service is already a great help. 

Dr. Chauhan says that the most frequent illnesses in the village are diarrhea, malaria, fever, dehydration, anemia, and bowel inflammation. These complaints are often caused by poor quality water, insufficient knowledge about hygiene, poverty, an unbalanced diet or malnutrition.    

According to a study conducted by the World Bank, more than one-quarter of India’s population is too poor to afford proper nutrition. Every year, two million children die before the age of five as a result of malnutrition and disease. Average life expectancy in India is 66 years, compared to almost 79 in the United States.

Men like Singh Chauhan are fighting almost unwinnable battle. But because they know that, they appreciate any kind of help they can get. Dr. Chauhan considers the seminars that are regularly held at a school in a neighboring village to be a particularly important feature of the Swasthya Yatra program. “The information that I get there about new treatment methods and medicines is invaluable for me,” he says. “My patients ultimately benefit from this information as well.” 

Dr. Chauhan and his colleagues agree that the “journey to health” will be a long one. Although there is still a long road ahead before India’s rural population has access to sufficient medical care, Swasthya Yatra is a big step forward. 

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