Tribal villages of Odisha where no medical help nor motor vehicle reached are now getting the best treatment, thanks to Dr. Aquinas Edassery. To find them, she’s going to places where there are no roads, where the first four-wheeler that the people saw was the jeep that she came in, where teenage mothers are dying during childbirth and where the death of children under the age of five is heartbreakingly high.
She could have chosen retirement or even a simpler task at the age of 61, but five years ago Dr. Aquinas gave herself the most challenging task of her life. She chose to work for the tribal people living in the forests of Thuamul Rampur Block in the district of Kalahandi, considered to be an appallingly backward region in Odisha. Dr. Aquinas knew this is what she wanted to do because this is where the need is the most.
Even while she worked in St. Johns Hospital in Bangalore, she went beyond institutional boundaries to reach out to the people of Kollegal in rural Karnataka. She and her friends did the dedicated groundwork in training grassroots workers on primary healthcare. Carrying this experience, she decided to dedicate all her time and efforts to uplift people who are in real need of this service.
In Kalahandi’s Thuamul Rampur block, most of the women have unassisted deliveries at their homes. The place has rampant malaria cases — people do not know how it spreads or that it can be cured. Tuberculosis is rampant too. Deaths are eerily silent. “Someone had to step in and start doing things,” says Dr. Aquinas. Dr. Aquinas and her two colleagues Sr. Angelina Thomas, a senior lab technician, and Sr. Biji Mery, a senior nurse, moved to Thuamul Rampur in 2014. They started their NGO ‘Swasthya Swaraj’ with a small office in the town of Bhawanipatna. They set up two medical centers in the region that are equipped to provide high-quality healthcare, 24/7, and have a laboratory to carry out primary investigations.
“But we cannot always sit in the clinic and expect patients to walk over 10-20 km to come to us. Especially, children and pregnant women cannot travel, so we decided to go to them,” says Dr. Aquinas. Some places are so remote that the jeep has to be parked at a place from where the team has to walk five to six kilometers to reach the villagers. “In the monsoon seasons, making inroads into the villages become all the riskier. But we are not here to do half-hearted work. If we had not taken the effort, many children would have died. All difficulties are all forgotten when we see are able to save the lives of precious babies and young mothers,” says Dr. Aquinas.
The team is always on the move, one village after the other. They use the help of postmen to give them updates on the health of the villagers. Around 14,000 people of 76 villages, selectively picked based on their backwardness and remote locations, are benefitted by the work of this 66-year-old doctor. “No, my age is not what matters. As a doctor, it matters to me that people benefit from my service.”
This work of providing free healthcare in this remote region cannot be carried out without the help of generous support from donors. Funds are required to cover travel expenses to reach the patients, providing free medicines and running two 24*7 health centers. Your support will ensure that Dr. Aquinas can continue to carry her work to provide free healthcare to people who need it the most.
Swasthya Swaraj mission and goals:
|Our Mission||Our Goals|
|We commit ourselves to empower the least and the last and the most unreached in the society; to liberate them from the bondage of ill health, illiteracy and poverty and thereby promote equity and equality.||Reduce the deaths and burden of diseases due to preventable diseases by 50% in 5 years|
|We facilitate peoples’ movement for health by empowering the people for community action for health.||Reduce maternal mortality to acceptable limits.|
|We promote community-based research on the unique health problems in the tribal pockets and find solutions for them.||Reduce infant mortality to 50 per 1000 and under-five mortality to 60 per 1000.|
|All our activities and programmes are participatory, educative, empowering and based on human rights and noble values of the tribal culture.||Improve the literacy levels through an innovative education model.|
|Our guiding principles are Justice, Equity, Integrity and Compassion.society free from ill health, illiteracy and poverty, where every human being lives healthy and happy, in harmony with nature.|