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In search of a doctor: No ambulance in Adivasi area, and the woman died

By Gagan Sethi* 

In the adivasi-dominated villages of South Gujarat, Operation Flood of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the Jesuits’ social work centres have been in existence for long. In 1979, buffalos were sought to be promoted in that region as an alternative to local cows, which were found to “less productive”. The Jesuits would organize doodh mandalis, and banks would reluctantly give loans. It was a long saga in the development of intensive dairy development. It all started with milk being collected by doodh mandalis. They then started taking it to chilling plants. Over time, dairies came up in Surat and Bharuch in the 1980s.
Our brief was to train village veterinarians, who could help provide first-level support to animal husbandry programme. We tried an experiment of a joint dairy farming cooperative in the remote village of Bal, near Malsamot in Bharuch district. Though it was ultimately a failure, the idea was romantic. It was based on the understanding that adivasis were not individualistic and that they would be able work as a milk cooperative by owning buffaloes collectively.
Professionally, it made sense as it would fit into the principle of economies of scale, and the business plan showed better returns than individual families owning a buffalo, earning by selling milk.
The first batch of 11 buffaloes was bought by the cooperative, and it was insured. In a week’s time I was there after an excruciating motorcycle ride of six hours from Ahmedabad and one-hour walk into the village. I found people gathered around the stalls, and was told that one buffalo was injured.
We swung into action to report the matter to the veterinary officer, who came in a jeep. Very young and committed, he treated the animal. It worked, and the adivasis were overjoyed!
That night I slept in the office hut. At 2 o’clock in the dead of night, three men came and woke me up. A young woman had been bitten by a snake. I was asked if I could I take her to the nearest primary health centre (PHC) on the motorcycle. I was scared: What was I getting into? Yet, we carried her to the bike, a 30-minute walk uphill. Then, for another 30 minutes we rode to the Malsamot sub-centre. It was closed. They told us we should take her to Dediapada.
“Can we get an ambulance,” we asked an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM), who told us that none was available… And the woman died!
While we have made a huge progress in providing on-the-spot veterinary services, even 35 years later, the Wikimapia says that the new Narmada district’s Junamosda village, of which Bal is a part now, has a PHC, but it is still under construction!
Today India is the largest single contributor to the global tally of snake bite deaths, with the numbers ranging between 15,000 and 50,000 a year. Accurate statistics are not available, and there is no standardized reporting of bites and identification of snakes.
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*Author is founder of Janvikas & Centre for Social Justice. First published in DNA

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