Tryst with Melghat
Utavali. Two- hundred and sixty kms away from Sevagram. Hilly, undulating and serpentine road. Zig-zag enough to cause vertigo and vomiting. A five-hour-long journey. Makeshift dispensary, improvised cabins for examining patients.
But none of these deterred 35 MGIMS doctors to tread a path that that is no longer less traveled by. They got into a college bus to reach Utavali, a village in Melghat area of Amravati district in Maharashtra; stayed there for two days and examined a little under 1900 patients. Surgeons, Orthopedicians, Paediatricians, Gynaecologists, Physicians, Psychiatrists, Pathologists, Radiation Oncologists, Dermatologists and Anaesthesiologists spent what they described days full of healthcare activity, celebrating the birthday of the Surgery head (Dr Dilip Gupta) and wedding anniversary of the dental surgeon (Mrs Savita Borle) in the village-based community hospital!
The MGIMS team, well supported by laboratory technicians, and engineering department, ensured that no patient who attended the two-day long camp went out unsatisfied and uncared for. And patients came in drives. For, they live in setting where doctors are difficult to get by, labs do not exist, pharmacies seldom stock essential drugs and the pockets lack depth. Thus, patients endure their illnesses silently, watch helplessly as their tumour grows and fills their belly, and often die- unwept and unsung. The MGIMS doctors saw gigantic thyroids, tumours bulging from breasts, moth-eaten mouths, fibroids big enough to match a football, worn-out knees, mouths sans teeth, cataract-filled eyes, malnourished babies, anxious and depressed faces, infected wounds, ulcerated legs and a variety of skin lesions.
All patients were quickly screened, assessed and those needing surgery were asked to return back a week later in the village itself. Our Surgeons and Gynaecologists decided to revisit the village and cut their tumours at the point of their residence.
And the doctors sang Hindi songs of sixties and seventies, shook their leg, wore down their hair, played desi version of cricket, passed the ball around, and also tested their prowess over the their hockey sticks. They took off their cameras - trying to arch, angle and stretch to capture scenic beauty of the village. When they came back to Sevagram, well after midnight, although they were visibly tired and sleepy, deep within they carried a serene satisfaction of having served the humanity.
And they left behind a message to the politicians, policy makers and public that Melghat deserves far greater attention and investment by public, private, and civic leaders and citizens than it currently receives. The devastating combination of poverty, poor status of girls and women, food insecurity, poor health services, and abysmal sanitary conditions simply cannot sustain healthy growth of the tribals.
The healthcare camp - the fourth one since 2012- also taught an important lesson to the younger doctors. There is a widely prevalent myth that people in rural areas have small health problems which can be addressed by a minimally staffed and equipped health center. If the magnitude and severity of the diseases that the doctors saw over the two-day period was anything to go by, the vast unmet health needs of the tribals in Melghat deserve a well- equipped and a well-staffed hospital.