Gramin Health Care helps rural India battle fear of Covid-19

Present in 1,000 villages across India, the Gramin team provides tele-consultation and door-to-door delivery of medicines and has also set up a free 24x7 Covid-19 hotline, run by clinicians, nurses and doctors

Naini Thaker
Published: Jun 10, 2021 03:15:12 PM IST
Updated: Jun 10, 2021 03:23:06 PM IST

In the last three months, Gurugram-based Gramin Health Care has also set up a free 24x7 Covid-19 hotline, run by clinicians, nurses and doctors. They are present in about 1,000 villages across Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, some parts of Maharashtra and Meghalaya

"Namaste, main Swati Chaudhary bol rahi hoon. Aapke parivaar mein kisiko Covid ke lakshaan hai? (Hello, my name is Swati. Does anyone in your family have any Covid-19 symptoms?)"

After getting no response, she cuts the call.

Chaudhary, a paramedic and nurse with Gurugram-based Gramin Health Care travels close to 100 km every day from her home in Taharpur Bhabisa district in Shamli to reach her clinic, Binauli Polyclinic, in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, by 7 pm. Two members from the nursing staff and a doctor accompany her.

Calls like these are a part Chaudhary's daily routine. Rarely does someone respond to her query; the word 'coronavirus' is a taboo, especially in rural India. While the first wave of the pandemic was restricted to urban areas, the second has impacted the country's rural areas badly. A recent report by SBI Research pointed out that between March and May, the percentage of rural districts with Covid-19 cases across India surged from 36.8 to 48.5.

Since the pandemic, Gramin has shifted from the brick-and-mortar primary health care clinic model, including diagnostic tests and pharmacy, to tele-consultation and door-to-door delivery of medicines. "People stopped coming to clinics and doctors too were reluctant to go there due to Covid-19. It made sense for them to be in our polyclinic, which was well-sanitised, and provide telemedicine support from there," says Ajoy Khandheria, founder of Gramin Health Care.

In the last three months, the Gramin team has also set up a free 24x7 Covid-19 hotline, run by clinicians, nurses and doctors. They are present in about 1,000 villages across Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, some parts of Maharashtra and Meghalaya.

However, dealing with the taboo around Covid-19 was not easy for frontline workers like Chaudhary. During the peak, she had to deal with close to 12 Covid-19 patients a day. "Often, people are scared when they call... we try to calm them down, and tell them that they should let us treat them for their family's safety," she says. Via tele-consultation, in case Chaudhary came across a patient who had Covid-19 symptoms, the doctor would speak to them and send across a prescription via WhatsApp.

Ajoy Khandheria, founder of Gramin Health Care

Given the current situation, Gramin also recognised that people are not willing to step out to buy medicines. "Our pharmacy might be 15 km away from where they live... hence they prefer buying medicines from another pharmacy closer, which might be more expensive, fraudulent or where the medicines may not be available," adds Khandheria. In order to help patients, Gramin ensures its in-house pharmacies send medicines door-to-door, thereby providing end-to-end medical support to every patient, whether or not he is down with the coronavirus.  

As a long-term solution for the lack of infrastructure, Gramin is hoping to set up 500 pharmacies for its 1,000 villages. "[In the pharmacies] we can provide medicines, the patient can do his/her telemedicine call with the doctor and his blood samples can also be collected there [if needed]. It becomes a centre for medical care," explains Khandheria. The process of setting these up has slowed down due to Covid-19, but Gramin has successfully set up 25 such pharmacies so far. In the next few weeks, it will have 100 pharmacies and in three to four months, about 500 in all.

Though Gramin's team continues to reinvent based on the way the situation is changing, there are a lot of challenges on a day-to-day basis. "First, our health care workers [about 160 of them] are not vaccinated. There is a severe lack of medicines and oxygen concentrators... we should be provided with subsidised RT-PCR tests to accurately test patients," he says. Every single frontline warrior on ground has been helping in raising awareness around Covid-19 which, according to Khandheria, is the only thing that can change people's mindsets.


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