Like everyone else, Seema* had dreams and was living a happily married life with her husband Ravi* and two kids in upper Tangroti. Somewhere in mid-2015, she started experiencing a sudden pain in her abdomen. The pain kept increasing day after day and she could not bear it. Initially she visited the Dharamshala Zonal Hospital. The doctor there examined her and prescribed her some medicines. The medicines did not give her relief and so she decided to visit the government hospital in Tanda. She went through some medical tests and the doctor prescribed her a different set of medicines. She got some relief with those medicines for 10-15 days but post that, the pain again started. The pain shifted from her abdomen to legs, and she could not walk because of the pain. She again visited Tanda hospital in hope of getting relief from the pain. She met the doctor and insisted that the doctor to give her an injection to relive the pain. The doctor said that the injection won’t work and that she needs to continue with the previously prescribed medicine, once she completes the medicine course she will be fine. But Seema was not satisfied with the doctors as she did not get quick relief from the pain so she decided to visit a private doctor in Tangroti. The private doctor examined her, prescribed medicine and also gave her an injection upon her request. Seema was happy; she was confident that her pain will now go away. She came back home everything and everything seemed fine that day. That night she went to sleep and in the morning she was unable to get up, he entire body was paralyzed the next day. Her family was in a state of complete shock and decided to take her to Tanda hospital immediately. She was admitted in the hospital for a couple of days but the doctors there failed to diagnose the cause behind her body paralysis. The doctors said that she won’t get back to normal again and she will need permanent care from now on, so the family brought her back home. Her husband Ravi took her to shamans (Angekok) and traditional healers, but no one was able to cure her from the paralysis. This incident was a bolt out of the blue for Seema and her family. It not only impacted her health but also the family income, since the mother-in-law alone was not able to care for Seema and they could not afford to employ a nurse. Hence the husband quit his job in order to care for his wife and kids. As a result of paralysis, Seema could not even eat food by herself.
When Jagori found out about Seema’s condition, our health sakhis visited their home. Ravi told our health sakhis the entire incident and how Seema had been bed ridden for the past three years. On listening to the entire story of Seema, our health sakhis immediately took her to the Dharamshala hospital where they got her examined by the doctor and helped her in getting a disability certificate. The medical examiner declared Seema as 80% disabled. This certificate is necessary for any person with a disability to procure a free wheelchair from Prayas Bhawan. Prayas Bhawan is an institution started by former deputy commissioner of Kangra district in collaboration with the Red Cross society and the ministry of social justice and empowerment (Red Cross Kangra, n.d.). It provides all the facilities for persons with disabilities, apart from that they also run a physiotherapy center and a rehabilitation center (Red Cross Kangra, n.d.). Our health sakhis accompanied Seema and her husband to Prayas Bhawan where they helped her get a wheelchair. For the past three years, because of the paralysis Seema had been on the same bed, so she had forgotten what the outside world looked like. Now since she got a wheelchair, her husband and family members take her on small rides outside. Our health sakhis also submitted Seema’s documents in the government welfare department, which will give her access to monthly pension thus supplementing the family income. Seema started receiving pension from month of April.
Our health sakhis are actively involved in helping people from the community in every possible way. Because of lack of awareness regarding the government schemes and services, most people are not able to access the services that are available to them by law, so we try to bridge this gap on a regular basis. But the battle is not finished here; our health sakhis need to spread the message across and make sure there is more awareness among the people in the community. This is not the only scandal we have witnessed: people acting under false pretense as doctors have taken advantage of innocent people, and sometimes even real doctors have prescribes unnecessary surgeries to people. One such scandal was caught in an investigation done by Thomson Reuters Foundation in Northwest India. One such farm laborer, Dharmendera’s and his wife Vaijanti, were presented with a stark choice by the visiting doctor after their first child birth which involved several complications. The choice was either to get a hysterectomy or die (Srivastava, 2019). The couple took loan of INR 100,000 to cover the procedure trapping Dharmendra in slave labor (Srivastava, 2019).
People in rural areas are easy targets, as they have nowhere to go so they will often listen to whatever the doctor tells them. The investigation found that many women – often young – are targeted by real or perceived doctors who medical experts say seek profit by prescribing the surgery for minor ailments, with the operation and later costs driving families into debt (Srivastava, 2019). Strict regulations need to be placed in order to avoid such incidents in the future.
*Names have been changed to protect the person’s privacy.
- Srivastava, Roli. “Missing Wombs: The Health Scandal Enslaving Families in Rural India.” Thomson Reuters, 7 May 2019. https://in.reuters.com/article/india-health-slavery/missing-wombs-the-health-scandal-enslaving-families-in-rural-india-idINKCN1SE078. [Accessed 10th May 2019]
- Red Cross Kangra. “Prayas.” IRCS Dharamsala, n.d. http://redcrosskangra.org/?page_id=33. [Accessed 10th May 2019]