By Vikas Bhatia and Nipurnh Gupta
Floods have become an unfortunate annual occurrence for hundreds of small hamlets lying in the basin of major rivers in Uttar Pradesh. Every time the swelling river cuts in, turning their low-lying hamlets into a string of islands, it becomes a challenge for the affected villagers to safeguard their lives. It is often a losing battle -- against squalor, hunger and disease, particularly for infants and children.
But this year within days of floods occurring in the area, help reached out to them in the form of Mobile Clinics supported by UNICEF.
A fleet of 105 mobile medical units, with doctors, paramedics, vaccines and drugs, coordinated by UNICEF’s 17 Divisional Health and Nutrition Technical Coordinators (DHNTC) is on a mission to assess and treat almost 200,000 people across the 14 flood-ravaged districts in UP, over the next two weeks and beyond.
“Throwing caution to the winds, the two doctors, four nurses and pharmacist, waded through waist-deep waters to vaccinate 25 children including three newborns, in this marooned village today,” said Dr Naresh Kumar, DHNTC, at Aima Khalsa village in Azamgarh.
It is not a sight that anyone will forget in a hurry – a medical team carrying vaccine carriers on their heads, negotiating their way through swirling flood-waters and water snakes, to reach out to 60-odd families with immunisation, medicines and ORS.
Like Dr Naresh, all the other DHNTCs are also out and about in the affected districts since 9 August, supporting the emergency medical relief operations in active collaboration with the district administration, health authorities, UNICEF-supported Social Mobilisation Network (SMNet) and local NGOs.
“The mobile clinic initiative was launched very quickly in response to the assessment reports to reach out to marooned children and women and prevent disease outbreak,” said Dr Vikas Bhatia, Officer in charge, Health, UNICEF, Uttar Pradesh.
His worry is that once water starts receding, the threat of outbreaks looms large and the challenge for medical teams is to respond immediately with epidemic prevention and control measures.
“By boat or by van, the mobile clinic keeps coming,” exclaims Sunehari, pregnant with her third child, adding, “This is the first time me and my children have received teeka (vaccination) and medicines. God bless the clinic!”
These sentiments are echoed in other villages too. The Mobile Clinics are treating almost 150-200 patients daily, a majority being women and children with fever, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and skin infections.
“All the 28 fever cases seen here are also being tested for malaria. Their blood samples will be processed in the Primary Health Centre and the team will return with medicine for those testing positive” he adds.
The teams are also distributing chlorine tablets and ORS and demonstrating how to use them properly. All wells and hand pumps are being chlorinated.
“UNICEF has done a wonderful job, by bringing services to the doorstep of the afflicted people,” said Mr. S.P. Dikshit, District Magistrate, and Maharajganj, who not only flagged off the Mobile Clinic in the district but spent a good few hours with the team at a tribal village. This is the first time a health service has ventured in the village. The Mobile Clinic has not just brought health but more importantly, hope.
“This emergency situation has brought together faith based, development based and human rights based organizations to address the flood situation in the state and this has strengthened us to work jointly in more sustainable manner,” says Dr Nimal Hettiaratchy, State Representative, and UNICEF Uttar Pradesh.
He adds, “Success can only be measured by the number of lives saved or lost. No child has died of water-borne diseases in the flood affected villages so far. Our team and partners are working dedicatedly to reach the poorest, most remove and disadvantaged communities.”