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Medical Camps useful or counterproductive

Medical Camps useful or counterproductive

Even after decades of freedom, India is struggling to provide basic health services to its people. According to government sources, in India 45 children die every hour due to respiratory infections. 1 child dies every 2 minutes due to diarrhea.  It is estimated that India has 42% of all diarrheal deaths. And annually, about 2 million children under 5 years of age die due to preventable diseases.  It shows poor healthcare in the country. Do the medical camps serve any useful purpose to curtail morbidity and mortality? The answers are yes and no!! There is no dearth of successful eye camps having served the curable blind for the last several decades. Similarly vaccination camps served a useful purpose in the eradication of small pox and several other infectious diseases. Of lately, with the advent of advancement in technology, heightened expectations of the beneficiaries and palpable greed of the organizers and surgeons the camps have fallen in disrepute! Many have used the camps as a ladder to climb success politically, socially or professionally. On the other hand some have burnt their fingers in the process due to intolerant public or stringent laws and paid through the nose.

The Radha swami Dera Beas (Amritsar) is built on the foundation of love, humility, seva, and meditation. More than 6,000 patients were treated for cataract and other eye diseases during the camp without regard for religion, caste, colour or other social distinctions.  Prof Jagat Ram an eminent eye surgeon and now director of PGI used to operate in this camp every year with compassion and dexterity. All medical treatment, board, lodging and after-care were provided to every patient, free of charge.  No doubt it is a great service to humanity!

Smile Health Camps is another such initiative of Smile Foundation to provide healthcare services to meet the immediate health care needs of the marginalized community in remote rural areas and slums through standalone camps. Customized health camps are organized extensively across the country offering comprehensive health services – curative, preventive, promotive and referral, to a large number of people in selected intervention areas. The uniqueness of the model lies in its comprehensive approach where health promotion and prevention are given equal importance while curative care is administered.

Asthma has no cure but when thousands from across the country turn up to swallow a live fish at Bathini Goud’s camp for free asthma cure even the most critical tend to wonder if the ‘medicine’ (‘prasadam’) is effective at all. While rationalists rubbish this ‘miracle cure’ as humbug, Gouds maintain that their prasadam, offers a “100 per cent cure” for asthma. The truth may lie somewhere in between. A reality check, if needed, should be done before and after tests conducted on those who take this fish therapy.  This type of effort perpetuates myths!

Why healthcare is poor?

Several doctors in public health centers illegitimately pursue government and private services simultaneously. Predictably, they are often late and leave for private clinic before time. Many of them do not come to their duties at all. Government hospitals are in a bad shape because of serious infrastructural inadequacies. All agree that rural health sector is not given much importance in India either in public or private sector. Even though rural health centers are attached to every medical college teaching about the medical needs of a rural population and their relief is not taught.  Conducting medical camps by doctors to provide aid is welcomed and it is partly helping the rural folk but the merits and demerits should be viewed carefully. The villagers are as much human beings as any other and any complacency or experimentation in their healthcare or sick care can be disastrous for the affected person and boomerang on the staff or organization providing such care.

Free Health Camps are organised in the rural areas where people are neither able to afford medical treatment nor having any basic knowledge regarding health and hygiene. So, through these programs people are given various tips on health issues. Besides these, basic health problems and sicknesses are diagnosed provided with free medicines. The program is conducted in its targeted area with the help of doctors from the government (PHC) or private hospital. In fact, these programs have been great benefits to many such peoples every year who could not reach to the nearest local hospitals.

The follow-up of the patient is not done as the camp is a one-time affair. Certain diagnoses are done by one-time examination which may be inadequate and is undesirable. The drugs supplied are for a short period and for chronic non-communicable diseases a life-long treatment and follow-up is important which cannot be fulfilled by the medical camps. Patients referred from the camps are not aware where the services of that specialist are available even after care full explanation; sometimes the specialist doctor is not available when the patient goes all the way to the referred hospital. Medical camps should not be encouraged for personal gain and popularity and the motive should be only rendering service.

Health ‘camps’ are one of the strategies adopted by both government and non-government organizations. This literally means that a team of health professionals ‘camp’ in an area to carry out a limited health intervention. For instance, government organizes sterilization camps for women. Or an NGO organizes a diabetes screening camp. Or a private hospital organizes a blood donation camp. Unfortunately government pays little attention to the quality of sterilization service and tends to focus on targets. Or there are NGOs which conduct camps just as an activity, which do not yield quality. Photo shoot may be the only objective in some cases. Many times, a health camp run by a private hospital becomes a business gimmick. The poor attend the camp with the aim of free check up and free treatment. When they do not get free treatment or subsidy for treatment they stop follow up. While organizing health camps follow up becomes one of the important ingredient in quality health camps. Either targeted approach without quality services or an activity without follow up will not improve the health status of the patients and will not develop trust between the community and the NGOs involved in such camps.

Scam in medical education and medical camps

It is well known that several private teaching hospitals are short of teaching faculty doctors as well as patients. These hospitals face the ire of inspectors of Medical council of India every year. When the annual inspection is held they recruit the teaching faculty temporarily only to satisfy the inspectors. They also manage fake patients on such occasions. Such hospital would conduct “free check-up camps,” to lure rural villagers to the medical college hospital on inspection days. The hospital sometimes would promise free ultrasounds or other investigations, but only a small number of people would be tested. Villagers often later complained about it to  Sarpanch or media or government officials.


Urban vs Rural

While the health statistics of rural India continue to be poor, the health status and access to health for the poor in urban slum dwellers has surfaced to be equally deplorable. Despite accounting for 1/4th of the country’s poor population, urban areas have less than 4% of government primary health care facilities. Urban slum dwellers suffer from adverse health conditions owing to mainly two reasons –first the lack of education and thus lack of awareness; and second the unwillingness to lose a day’s wage in order to reach the nearest medical facility. Health for underprivileged, which is a desperate need, thus remains unaddressed. As a result, cases of poor women health, malnourishment in children and deaths from preventable diseases from such areas are always high.

In such a scenario a dependable mobile health care services delivery system is the most practical mechanism.


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