Thursday, April 15, 2010

HEALTH ON WHEELS

The Lifeline Express needs national endorsement

Like every year this year too, April 7 was observed as the World Health Day. And like every year, this day again showcased the prevalent dichotomy of the global citizens with respect to health issues. So, on one hand, there are nations which have been successful in providing health security to all its citizens, on the other, there are other nations who are still struggling to arrest the deaths of its citizens on account of curable diseases! In fact, India is no different! On one hand, there are such a few state-run hospitals wherein a patient might die waiting for his/her turn, standing in the queue and on the other hand, there are these privately-run hospitals where the patient ends up burning holes in his/her pocket! Amidst such anomalies there is this non-descript, tiny initiative called Lifeline Express which is doing wonders in its own way.

In a nation where basic health services are out of reach of the common man, and where the annual budgetary allocation for health lingers around merely 4 per cent, Lifeline or the Jeevanrekha Express is acting as an innovative door-step solution. Unlike conventional charitable hospitals where patients have to reach the health centre by themselves, Lifeline Express is the only medical unit that takes the hospital to the patient. Till date, over 600,000 Indians have got treated from this extraordinary mobile medical unit. However, resource constraint and low frequency enable it to reach just 10 per cent of population — and that’s why I call it a tiny initiative.

A similar model, influenced from India’s Lifeline Express, is doing wonders in China, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe. Unlike in India where on account of lack of resources the train just manages to run for couple of months in a year, in the aforementioned countries the train runs for nine months in a year performing numerous and varied surgeries. In fact the biggest predicament that the train faces is that of capital. Since its just one NGO, Impact India, that manages the whole operation, it is impossible for them to reach out to a larger audience. Adding to the woes, the train has only a handful of permanent staff (cook, a technician, an operation theatre assistant and a driver) and all medical specialists (doctors, surgeons and all) are volunteers and not permanent in nature.

No doubt it is a tiny initiative as of now but definitely holds a huge promise, provided the government comes forth to provide larger support, besides customary donation of a few free coaches. In fact another plausible solution to empower the Lifeline Express is to merge it with the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). This should not be a problem as Lifeline Express is endorsed by the Ministry of Health. This will not only take care of the resources problem but also allow the train to run throughout the year across the nation. Moreover the staff recruited from NRHM can also assist the train at local stations and also arrange makeshift clinics even before the train reaches the destination, which can go a long way in saving on time, resources and funds. Further the same train could also be used to reach out to victims of floods and other epidemics.

The only challenge now is to replicate it on a pan India basis. It is not that this train is the panacea of all the health related problems that India suffers, but then it definitely has the promise to redefine health services for the nation. Lifeline Express has embarked upon a great humanitarian journey and it is not just the responsibility of the government, but each and every stakeholder of the economy to contribute in their own way, towards its success!

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