Sunday, April 24, 2005

Apni CEHAT ka sawaal hai

March 23rd:

On Wednesday morning, I headed to CEHAT, a health group AID is associated with. CEHAT is primarily involved in research and documentation - its Pune office is the Indian secretariat for the People's Health Movement. But it does have various initiatives on the ground as well, notably the Kolhapur work. At the Mumbai office, I met Dr. Amita Pitre. She is an ayurvedic doctor who now works on a number of projects at CEHAT, one of which is the design and distribution of a cheap and effective examination kit for sexual assault victims. Another project we discussed was the Resettlement issue. This work involves people who have been resettled by the government from slums, squatter colonies and other urban settlements considered undesirable. They are often moved into apartment buildings in completely new areas, often without access to city services. Many of them haven't been able to get new ration cards or immunization for their children, and many have been refused treatment for TB. They often cannot pay maintenance fees for the buildings they live in, so electricity and water supply has been cut off. "Imagine living on the 9th floor without running water or an operating lift," said Dr. Pitre. "Pregnant women have been known not to ever come down - they even give birth in their homes." Morever, the lifestyle in apartments is very different from that in chawls or slums or the villages that many these people have migrated from - there, doors weren't closed and typically childcare was a community activity. In apartments, those old social structures are shattered. CEHAT has been doing networking with a number of groups, including those involved in City Planning, to highlight this and other issues.

We also talked about water purification techniques, this being an issue I've gotten interested in after the discussions with the Sangtin folks. Dr. Pitre said that chlorination is still a very effective technique that shouldn't be discounted. It is cheap and easy to use - Mediclor, a commercial package is available with Gram Panchayats. But just 2 drops are sufficient for a litre and over-chlorination defeats the purpose. She also mentioned a group called Jan Swasthiya Sahyog (JSS) in Bilaspur that has developed some portable filters. One of the goals of this group is to develop cheap, easy-to-use medical/health products, for e.g., they have developed a kit for testing for Urinary Tract Infections. "Products like this are essential and yet so few people are working on them."

We also talked about the need for scientific approaches to testing various herbal remedies, the social aspects of community health work and the need for involving the middle class in Mumbai and elsewhere in issues of social justice.
After this meeting, I met a friend for lunch and then the two of us headed to a few shops for a bout of shopping. One stop we had was in South Mumbai, where I picked up one of many parcels heading to US in my baggage from a friend's husband. We also visited an NGO whose representative, Mr. Thomas, had been in Nagapattinam during my visit there. His group, which is working in 30 villages on house reconstruction, was waiting for the Tamilnadu government to make allotments of land. "So basically you are not doing anything until you hear from the government?" I asked and he replied yes. "What about health, education, advocacy?" It seems they were organizing a few health camps etc. but nothing major. The discussion gave me a sense of what 'seva' - service looks like when not linked to 'sangharsh' - struggle. And the importance of advocacy and political viewpoints for any group wishing to effect social change.

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