This Article is From Oct 18, 2012

Assam's boat clinics carry health services and hope for children

Bordiya (Assam): The successive waves of flood in Assam this year have left millions of children fighting illness and poor nutrition, and thousands displaced. And for those inhabiting remote islands in the middle of Brahmaputra River, these boat clinics run by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research and supported by the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) are the only hope.

There are 15 such boats across 13 districts of Assam covering about a million people. NDTV travelled with one such boat clinic to Bordiya in Kamrup district in Lower Assam. Once a month, this boat arrives here with healthcare.

When we reached there, we saw 7-year-old Anna Khatun carrying her six-month-old sister who is suffering from acute respiratory infection, a very common ailment amongst children here. It can also be fatal. Dr Aaron Momin who is part of the boat clinic told us that 40 per cent of the patients are children and with flood the number is only increasing. Diarrhoea and respiratory are the most common diseases and hygiene remains a major concern.

Last week, an NGO Save the Children conducted a survey in three districts and found that 48 per cent of the children reported ill on the day of the survey. Though the government has distributed water purifying and zinc tablets, these islands are perhaps too remote for the government delivery system to reach out. For nearly a million people who live on similar islands called Chars or Saporis, which are under constant threat from the river engulfing them, the hope is fast diminishing.

The Brahamaputra has more than 2500 such islands where government medical care has failed to reach. The workers of Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA, a key component in the national rural health mission, have been designated to collect these kits from local health centres but till last week, communication was virtually snapped. This boat, however, was the lifeline for 15 villages carrying medicines and hope.

Large families are common on these islands and that causes several health issues like maternal mortality, infant mortality and malnutrition. We met a mother of seven children; the youngest among them was a year old and weighing just 5 kg which is grossly underweight. She has never brought the child for any immunisation camps. Every second child under four years in Assam is malnourished, the maternal mortality rate is worst in the country, health indices for women and children are shocking and the waves of flood have only worsened the situation. Apart from doctors and paramedics, community workers are going door to door to raise awareness for hygiene and immunisation. But the magnitude of the disaster is so massive that any help seems inadequate.