Experience Deployed – Village Health Champions
October 1st, 2023
Njarakkal, Kochi, Kerala
”In the beginning, we conducted household surveys for all the houses,” reminisces Seema, a Village Coordinator of Gujarat villages. “We formed SHGs (Self-Help Groups) and gave awareness sessions to the groups. We talked about menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls. We also formed a farmers group, as well as a VDC, a Village Development Committee.”
Her list of tasks does not end here. ”We gave health awareness for children in Anganwadi preschool on malnutrition. We took the sick to the hospitals. SHG women made phenyl and soaps.” They had generated income by selling the soaps in nearby markets. The soap-making course and connections were supported by Amrita. “We moved forward from health aspects to other issues in the village,” she summarizes the work done for the welfare of the villagers. ”We continued house visits in people’s homes and as per need, assisted for further care,” Seema explains. She has been coordinating development functions in her village for several years. Also, she is a trained health worker and now becoming a trainer herself.
People will open up more and start telling the problems, we have to listen and explain the topic of their interest. So we should always be prepared by having knowledge and materials on more topics with us.
In collaboration with Amrita Hospital Kochi, Amrita School for Sustainable Futures organized a 10-day Village Health Champions Training of Trainers. The program was held from 16th September to 25th September 2023.
Many of the 24 participants from 16 villages and 15 states across India came to enhance their expertise on village health. Amrita Community Medical Center in Njarakkal, in Kochi – Kerala, was the location for the training. The course was conducted by doctors from the Community Medicine and Infectious Diseases departments at Amrita Hospital, and faculty from the Amrita School for Sustainable Futures.
Subhadra from Uttarakhand and Deeksha from Punjab also agree to the tasks Seema was listing. All of them have years of experience working in their village. They had received training along the way.
Deeksha, a zonal coordinator for the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu villages talks about one of the earlier training programs: “During the Varanasi training (2017), we also did field trips to real villages as part of the course. The symptoms and effects of each disease and their treatment were visible on the spot. We learnt how pregnant women are examined, how the foetus and the baby grows, and how to measure blood pressure. One day we had a theory session and the next day followed by practicals. For example, we saw how skin diseases occur, how ringworms affect the health of a person, or how the uterus is infected,” recollects Deeksha. She is referring to a mobile medical unit bus run by doctors, which have equipment especially for pregnant mother and mother-child primary health care.
The practical field trips were done in the outskirts of Varanasi city. ”Villages were far away, and we divided into two teams and traveled for hours to reach there. We had food in the bus very late in the afternoon or in the evening upon return. Lunch and dinner was carried with us to the villages during the trips,” Seema added.
And what would these experienced ones then pass on the next batch of health workers? Urmila answers the question. She is a health worker and ASHA worker in Ratanpur, Bihar. ”For new health workers we wish to say that they will learn through experience and by attending more trainings. As a first step, they should conduct house visits and give awareness on diseases which are present in the village.”
Subhadra, a village coordinator cum health worker in Dunda, Uttarakhand, agrees and shares her insight: “In the beginning, people may not listen to what we wish to say. As health workers, we cannot give them any medicines or prescribe one. But, we can help them prevent any disease with the help of balanced diet and following necessary precautions.”
For further instructions she advises: “As a routine, pick one topic for discussion each day and talk about it to different people during house visits. If we discuss various topics on the same day, people will forget the details. Also, ask people what is their problem. For example, a new mother would want to know more about breastfeeding. People will open up more and start telling the problems, we have to listen and explain the topic of their interest. So we should always be prepared by having knowledge and materials on more topics with us.”
Subadhra emphasized that all of these experienced women had come a long way. “In 2015, we attended the first training at Njarakkal Amrita Training Centre. In 2016 we had a 5-week course in Amritapuri and Njarakkal as well. In 2017, we participated in the Sri Ramakrishna Home of Service training provided in Varanasi during the months of February and July. In September 2018, we attended a 3-day refresher training at Amritapuri. We are also attending online trainings regularly.”
In 2017, Amma honoured the health workers by giving a certificate for their dedicated work on stage during Amritavarsham64.
At the latest course, the objective of the program was to train healthcare volunteers from villages across India to become community health champions and train the experienced ones to support new health workers. On the fourth day, a new initiative was launched: Village Level Amrita My TB-Free Village Training Initiative, ’TB Haarega, Desh Jeetega’.
“Now, one of our focuses is to eradicate TB (tuberculosis) from our villages,” concludes Seema.
Training of Trainers program is supported by the Amrita-DST and Government of India being part of a larger project called Covid Community Resilience and Resource Centre (CCRRC) Village Project. Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is mandated as the implementation agency to improve villagers’ resilience in 13 states across India.
The program will train healthcare volunteers from villages across India to become community health champions. The training will cover a wide range of topics, including basic health care concepts, participatory rural appraisal, health promotion and disease prevention, communicable disease surveillance, first aid and emergency care, nutrition and dietetics.