Arogyasevikas: Grassroot Soldiers of Health and Wellness

by Sharon Rodrigues

Health is not external to an individual, but part of their life and the right lifestyle, diet and preventive and natural measures will ensure good health and lesser dependency on artificial practices of health care.

Over the years, India has experienced a major shift in its healthcare approaches. Once viewed as a cradle for the practice and promotion of traditional and natural measures of healthcare, India has now become one of the largest consumers of commercial healthcare products and services. Despite this, the rural and urban healthcare landscape is characterised by deep disparities in the quality and affordability of, and accessibility to, healthcare services.

In response to these inequalities, the Health Promotion Trust (HPT) was established in 2001, with the goal of supporting the needy through affordable and equitable access to healthcare facilities. While designing its Perspective Plan in 2009, HPT recognised the importance of reviving and promoting traditional and preventive practices, such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, yoga, naturopathy and homeopathy, among the marginalised and vulnerable communities in the Archdiocese of Bombay. These alternative approaches are person-oriented, based on a gentle and humane understanding of an individual's body and mind, as well as safe, accessible and affordable. "Prevention is better than Cure" underlies all of HPT's healthcare programmes and services.

To implement its community health programme, HPT sought the support of 18 community-based organisations in Raigad district, and identified 27 healthcare workers to work as arogyasevikas in remote villages and wadis. Their key role is to create a healthcare system within the community that is based on natural preventive and curative measures. HPT has made a conscious effort to provide quality training to its arogyasevikas to ensure that their healthcare outreach is authentic and reliable. The success of this outreach can be attributed to two factors – firstly, to the arogyasevikas' ability to understand the healthcare needs of the tribal community, and the people's willingness to comfortably express their health concerns; and secondly, to the Nature cure measures that have always been an integral component of the tribal lifestyle.

Health workers, Mrs Supriya Zole and Mrs Ashwini Pale from Snehavardhini, Roha share, "During our work tenure, we were encouraged to attend a couple of healthcare training programmes organised at Janhit Vikas Kendra, Tara. There, we learnt, observed and witnessed the benefits of various home and herbal remedies. We shared our knowledge and skills during our community visits. After observing our interest and curiosity to learn, the Centre encouraged us to participate in all HPT healthcare training. Our first achievement was completing the "Barefoot Health Worker" certificate course, after which there was no turning back. We were then appointed as HPT health workers/arogyasevikas. To ensure that we provide quality service, HPT organises exposure visits at regular intervals to like-minded organisations. This helps to increase our knowledge of alternative health care measures, and to foster community healthcare through these measures. The training we received during our visits to National Institute of Naturopathy, Pune and Integrated Health Care Centre, Jamkhed, and most recently, to Vedruna Healthcare Centre, Unai have strengthened our beliefs about preventive healthcare, and improved our ability to work in the community."

"Our 27 arogyasevikas have done noteworthy work. They have conducted preventive health training, promoted and supported the growth of herbal gardens in the villages, and prepared and promoted the use of herbal and home remedies. What was best about the recent training in Gujarat was the health kit that each worker received, containing various herbal remedies, wheat grass oil, herbal massage oil, heal oil, fever and indigestion remedies. We have successfully used all of these to address common health concerns of people in the villages. The task was not so difficult, as people in our tribal community have been born and raised to believe in natural measures of healthcare. The formal healthcare system is not within their reach, so they are able to understand the benefits of natural methods of healing."

"Our role as arogyasevikas paved the way for us to work as frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our major work included promoting and teaching people various preventive measures against common cold and cough, making them aware about the preventive measures recommended by WHO to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, successfully identifying a total of 1690 vulnerable people (senior citizens, children, T.B. patients, pregnant and lactating mothers) for HPT's Immunity Booster Programme, and assessing the impact of the nutritious powder on the overall health of the people."

"We believe that HPT's approach to healthcare is apt and right in view of the rising healthcare concerns that have engulfed every section of the community. I am sure that all of us arogyasevikas will agree that health is not external to an individual, but part of their life, and the right lifestyle, diet, and preventive and natural measures will ensure good health, and lesser dependency on artificial practices of healthcare."

"We state that we are happy to be a part of the HPT team that pays attention to grassroot realities and takes into consideration the suggestions and feedback of the 27 arogyasevikas while planning, organising and implementing need-based healthcare programmes in our communities."

The above testimony shared by our two health workers endorses our belief in HPT's ideology, and strengthens our conviction about adopting and promoting healthcare measures that emphasise the principle that 'Health is in our Hands.'

Sharon Rodrigues is the Programme Coordinator, Health Promotion Trust.