The day starts with a trip to the main office of the Rural Health Progress Trust (RHPT), in the city of Murud. We ride in a mini bus with our driver Mr. Shankar, who excellently dodges the chaotic traffic on the dirt roads. A larger group of people from Murud greets us in front of RHPT and we are humbled by their excitement. While the Chai (a traditional Indian sweet tea) is being served, Doctor Arun delivers an excellent presentation outlining the key challenges with NCD’s (non-communicable diseases) in rural India and the fantastic results achieved by the RHPT programs. We learn about awareness activities targeting schools, kids, teachers and religious organizations. We also understand how Doctor Arun intelligently uses local media channels to create more trustworthy attention and how he exceeds in converting local people to skilled health care workers. We hear how active management of hypertension and diabetes is carried out in the primary, secondary and tertiary care centres and how mobile hypertension clinics treat poor and immobile people on-site. Doctor Arun explains how “self-help groups” improve medication access in rural villages and how on-site blood pressure and sugar checkpoints help with early diagnosis and prevention. Lastly, RHPT convey guideline based knowledge to local doctors. This empowers them to deliver better treatments, while simple smartphone apps help to digitalize the health care support.
After the presentation we visit the village Ter in the Osmanabad district. Here we see a secondary public and rural health facility. We start with an indepth interaction with the local community and the personnel at the hospital. This becomes a unique opportunity to observe how the facility functions and how it benefits the local society. We observe that the facility only has one doctor although it should have had multiple doctors on-site. As we leave we are presented with a flower each and it seems that most of the local villagers have arrived to meet and greet us. It is a nice experience, where you simply wish you could stay and spend more time with these kind people.
The next village on our journey is Mhodarwadi. Here we see very practical examples of the programs and initiatives that are run by RHPT. The mobile hypertension clinic is an impressive setup, where local villages get easy access to blood pressure measurements, blood sugar readings and an Electrocardiogram (ECG). The ECG runs on a smartphone device with a customized ECG app, that takes advantage of the phone’s computing power. It is also connected to a label printer, which allows the citizens to store their health data on paper. The introduction of smartphones has made technology like this more accessible in rural areas and it is a good example of how digital health is shaping the developing world. We gather around in a circle in the middle of the village and are greeted by the village Sarpanch (the village chief), who introduce us to the elderly that suffer from hypertension and diabetes. We hear their patient stories and learn how they take control of their disease with better education and access to basic medicines such as Amlodipine, Ramipril and Metformin. We also hear how local women are responsible for micro saving health programs, that improve continuity of care and access to compliance checks.
The third village on our road is Borgoan. They actively reached out to the RHPT on their own to join their programs and improve overall health in the village. Once again people are very welcoming and at we feel privileged to visit them and learn about their challenges.
The last village visit is Jagji, where we experience a fully functional primary health clinic. It has space for 10 beds and performs numerous important functions for the local area including management of chronic diseases, poisoning from snake bits, management of maternal and child health and family planning operations (sterilization).
In the local village we receive a beautiful and authentic Indian lunch at the house of one of the founders of RHPT. From Borgoan we travel to Murud to meet with local physicians, general practitioners and government officials in the RHPT office. A handful of doctors and public officials presents in front of the CDC, the Lancet Commission and us as representatives of Heeple. They delivered insightful perspectives of the different health functions in India and the on-ground work performed by RHPT.
After a very long day in rural India we drive back to Latur for dinner with Doctor Arun. Here we have a chance to reflect on our experiences and discuss our experiences and observations. I personally sat with a mixed feeling of being overwhelmed by the healthcare challenges but at the same time experiencing a growing hope and optimism for better conditions in the future. There is so much to achieve in India and it is uplifting and motivating to see how Doctor Arun and RHPT pave the way for a stronger, heathier, better, and more digital health care sector in rural India.