An Alternative in Health Care

It was in 1995 that a doctor, coming back from Shaheed Hospital of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha after a stint of 8 years, joined Kanoria Jute Sangrami Shramik Union workers to run a health program for the poor of the area. A small clinic was set up on March 20, 1995 in a deserted poultry shed in the Chengail industrial area of the Uluberia subdivision of Howrah district. The doctor was supported by seven health workers, mostly from the workers' and peasants' families.

Afterwards the doctor's co-workers in students' movement, junior doctors' movement and rational drug therapy movement started to join the clinic. A society, Shramajibi Swasthya Udyog (Toilers' Health Initiative) was registered in 1999 comprising the doctors and health-workers of the clinic—Shramik-Kjrishak Maitri Swasthya Kendra (Workers-Peasants Alliance Health Center). SSU was joined by a similar society, Dr Bhaskar Rao Janaswasthya Committee in 2000 (Dr Rao was a revolutionary ophthalmologist, martyred in 1970 in Telengana).

Now the health center runs in a 3-storyed building, built slowly over years. There are now 25 doctors, 4 therapists (physiotherapist, psychologist, optometrist), 2 special educators and 29 workers running a multispeciality clinic (General, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Dentistry, Physical Medicine and Physiotherapy, Skin, Optometry and Ophthalmology, Surgery), special clinics for the mentally retarded and for the children with learning difficulties, diagnostics (Pathology, Biochemistry, Haematology, Serology, ECG, Radiography, Ultrasonography and Spirometry), and a Rational Medicine Shop.

The main clinic has two satellite clinics in the industrial town of Bauria (twice a week) and in the rural area of Bainan (twice a month) in the district of Howrah. From 1999, SSU runs a regular monthly camp in Beliatore of Bankura. Another SSU clinic is at the Jamespur Village of Satjelia island of the Gosaba block of the Sundarbans run by trained health-workers.

By running the clinics, SSU proves that modern medicare can be provided at nominal costs if rationality is followed. Thus it opposes commercialization of medicare and disproves government's notion that modem medicine is highly expensive.

SSU attempts to educate the people on the socioeconomic causes of illnesses, it tries to empower the people with the simple technologies of disease prevention and treatment. Towards this end, SSU was associated with Asukh-Bisukh, a Bengali magazine on health and society, from 2000 to 2011. From 2011 it is involved in the publication of another periodical Swasthyer Britte (In the Circle of Health).

Other publications of SSU are on:
o   Shaheed Hospital and the Workers’ Health Movement of Chhattisgarh
o   A manual on medical management of disasters: When There is No Doctor (The book has recently been translated in Hindi)
o   Globalization and Health
o   China's Health System: the Great Leap Backward
o   Homeopathy in Alternative Therapy: an exposure
o   Children with Learning Difficulties
o   A note for patients on Rheumatic Fever
o   Information sheets for patients on some common medicines

SSU stands by the just people’s struggles—the land struggles of Singur, Nandigram and anti-Posco, tribals' struggle of Lalgarh, anti-eviction struggle of Nonadanga. It helps by organizing medical relief and by training the activists as health-workers.

SSU tries to stand by the affected in the times of natural calamities-super cyclone of Odisha, floods in West Bengal, tsunami in southern states of India, Aila in Sundarbans.

SSU runs a two months residential training program to train the activists of the fraternal people’s organizations in management of common illnesses. So far more than one hundred and fifty boys and girls from the backward districts of West Bengal and the neighbouring states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura have been trained. They provide health care in areas where there are no doctors. They seek advice from SSU doctors over mobile phone.

As far as the day to day running is concerned SSU is self-reliant almost from its inception. But for relief work, for construction of building, for acquiring costly instruments and equipment it needs external monetary help. SSU does not take money from funding agencies. All its developmental and relief works have been made possible by individual donations of well-wishers.

From 2013 SSU is involved in the campaign for Universal Health Care. In 2010, the Planning Commission constituted a High Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage. The HLEG recommended to raise the government expenditure on health from 1.4% to 2.5% of GDP by 2017. In the I2lh Plan, the Planning Commission ignored the HLEG recommendations. SSU, along with some other people's health organizations, is campaigning on the recommendations and on other countries' experience of Universal Health Care. SSU demands health as a fundamental right.

Vol. 48, No. 11, Sep 20 - 26, 2015