In India’s Healthcare Hub, A Village Without A Doctor

Only last month, vice president M Venkaiah Naidu hailed Tamil Nadu as the ‘hub of medical tourism’. But this village, just 33 km away from the city, has thousands living without medical facilities within their reach.

Thirukandalam, in Tiruvallur district, has around 3,000 residents, mostly Dalits. These people have to travel at least 3 km for treatment, even for minor ailments such as cough and cold.  “In case of dire emergencies, like pregnancies, it’s impossible to get quick medical attention,” says 35-year-old K Vijaya.

“The nearest facility we have is in Kannigaipeir, a small town three kilometres away.”

It’s not exactly a solution. Kannigaipeir has a private clinic and a government sub-centre. While the sub-centre, which operates out of a rented building, caters to some, most villagers opt for the private clinic though it’s expensive.

The villagers are primarily farm labourers, who depend on the income from agriculture. In times other than harvest season, they depend on Rs 100 per day given by the government under the MGNREGA scheme.

Costly affair

“It costs anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 500 per check-up at the private clinic,” says Vijaya. “This, excluding the cost of medicines and travel to the clinic. A substantial portion of our hard-earned money will vanish if one of us falls sick.”

In case of serious emergencies, government’s free ambulance comes to rescue. But, it has to arrive from Periyapalayam, a good 13 kilometres away. “If there’s traffic, the ambulance can take up to an hour to reach our village,” says 32-year-old G Rajendran.

Flanked by verdant lands, roads leading to Thirukandalam are well-laid. But, public transport is inadequate. The situation has been used well by share autos who fleece the villagers. “The only bus that connects our village to Kannigaipeir is irregular,” says Rajendran. “Share autos, meanwhile, charge Rs 15 for a ride to the neighbouring village. If we have to go to Red Hills or Chennai from there, we need to pay more.”

Villagers say that if they are unlucky and there is no one else to share the share auto, they have to pay Rs 100 for a ride to the village. “There was a bus plying between Vengal, which is 10 km from Thirukandalam, and Vallalar Nagar. That has been stopped,” says R Udhaya, an ITI student.

“My college is in Vallalar Nagar, which is about 3o km away. Now, I have to switch three buses to get to my college,” says Udhaya. Noted lawyer Sudha Ramalingam runs a shelter in the village for the elderly and victims of domestic violence. She says there is no doctor in the village to help victims in case of a scorpion or snake bite. “Occasionally, we conduct medical camps and hundreds turn up. But, there needs to be doctors on regular basis,” says Sudha.

A health department official told Express that Primary Health Centres are provided only in villages with population exceeding 30,000. “There is a sub-centre at Kannigaipier for all the surrounding villages, including Thirukandalam. However, we will inspect the village and look at the requirements of the people to see whether a sub-centre could be set up nearby,’’ the official said. – The New Indian Express

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