Blog 2 : Holistic Health in Hovels

It is said that 17% of all Indian households are slums (or the more politically correct term, informal settlements). Nashik is no different. On my second day here, I went with the mobile health unit to Ambrapali, an informal settlement in the outskirts of the city with a population of 4000 residents. I noticed the change in scenery immediately. Gone were the gated houses and high rise apartments. Gone were the footpaths, sparkling new cars and high end restaurants. The area did not have developed footpaths, but patches of mud where goats and chickens grazed; a source of income for the locals. Carefully passing the goats and chickens we parked the ambulance/mobile health unit near a bench area, sounding the siren to inform locals we were here. A consultation with the doctor and medication costs 20 rs (23p) – taken only as a token fee to prevent people coming to stock up on drugs. Slowly locals began to arrive. All of them had the same condition. URTI (upper respiratory tract infection). I asked the coordinator whom I was with why this was the case and he did one better by taking me inside the informal settlement. Here I saw narrow alleys flowing with a stream of dirty water with a strong smell indicating the absence of a sewage system (well, an official sewage system). Women washed clothes outside their small homes made from shipping containers, with children running around naked. Dogs roamed the alleys and hordes of flies followed them. One of the workers of the hospital also lived in the informal settlement, so we paid her a visit. What is the inside of a slum like? Leaking pipes, uneven concrete floors, a 90s radio in the centre of the room for entertainment? Nope. A LG flatscreen TV, marble flooring and air conditioning.

It became clear what was the cause behind the epidemic of the disease. Poor water sanitation and overcrowding leading to fast outbreak of any infection.

A few days later, we went to another informal settlement in the city centre which was very similar to the first one, except this was more cramped and more patients were ill due to the recent rains. We set the clinic up in a Buddhist monastery. Here we promoted local courses that were happening with a partner organisation in computer literacy, mobile repair and other marketable skills the population could use. I took blood pressure readings of patients as they consulted the doctor, which would help the doctors identify the condition the patients were suffering from.

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