KANCHEEPURAM: THEY know he is not a qualified medical practitioner, but that did not prevent people in a cluster of villages in Kancheepuram district from depending upon a quack for over a decade for most of their medical needs.
The Government Health Sub Centre at Kalakattur with a lone Village Health Nurse has to cater to a population of about 5,000 in and around the village. For them, M Shoukath Ali (47), their ‘Bhai’ doctor is the only option.
Authorities of the Directorate of Medical Services in Kancheepuram have complained to the police about the SSLC-failed from Andhra Pradesh, who has been practicing allopathy for nearly 19 years.
The solitary village nurse posted there has to attend to people in six villages — Kalakattur, KSP Village Nagar, Kuruvimalai, Vellathottam, Vellathottam Colony, and Kamuga Palam — all about 80 km from Chennai. She has to monitor ante-neonatal care, maternal and child health care, delivery care, vaccination for children and school health programme. The nurse is also entrusted with the task of taking the important State and Central schemes like Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternal Benefit scheme to the grassroot level.
The nurse stays at the sub centre, but has to visit one village after another, often returning to the centre only around 6 pm on most days.
“The nearest Additional PHC is in Keeranallur, about 5 km from Kalakattur, while the Kancheepuram Head Quarters Hospital is 9 km away. But access is a big problem as there is only one bus that comes at 9 am to Keeranallur. After that, we have to depend on share autorickshaws,” said B Devi, a villager.
“We know he is not qualified but we still go to him to get tablets or injection for fever, cough or cold. For other emergencies, like snake bites for instance, he himself would make a call to the 108 ambulance service to take us to government centres,” she added. “The village nurse comes only in the night. So for emergencies, we go to him,” said P Deepa, another villager.
In the absence of an MBBS doctor, villagers often resort to age-old ways. K Santhanam remembers the day when a scorpion bit a villager at around 11 pm. “There is a belief that eating coconut and jaggery will arrest the poison from spreading. He just did that, and went to the hospital only in the morning,” he said.
A senior official from the Health Department told Express that the standard set up is to have one Health Sub Centre for five villages. “The nurse’s role is to make sure people have access to basic medical care and spread awareness about various health parameters and government schemes. Then comes the Additional PHC, where a doctor will be available from 9 am to 4 pm. Next in hierarchy is the Upgraded PHC that has a doctor round-the-clock,” explained the official, adding, “The villagers don’t want to travel, and expect everything to come to them.”
But a government doctor on rural service said there is a need to increase the number of nurses. “In some places one VHN is taking care of over 10,000 people. The authorities should address the issue faced by the common public,” the doctor added.
Alleging that the authorities are not addressing issues like this, the doctor asked, “If the grassroot level workers are overburdened, how can they can focus on detecting and controlling epidemics and other emergency works?”