In flood-hit Assam, boat clinics bring respite to many
For Rahima Khatun, whose one-year-old child has diarrhoea, and Jamila, who could not get medicines for her chronic body ache and fever, boat clinics have become the only mode of medical help during floods in Assam.
At Goroimari, the char (riverine island) close to the Orang National Park in Morigaon district, they eagerly waited for the boat clinic with two doctors to arrive on Monday morning.
“There was chest-deep water for a few days and I could not go to the market to fetch medicines,” Jamila, who gave only her first name, said.
As the boat anchored in Goroimari, a crowd of mostly women and children waited anxiously as the local ASHA worker helped unload the medical supplies.
Within minutes, the clinic was ready as desks were laid and occupied by two doctors, a laboratory technician among other staff and tarpaulin sheets pulled out to cover from the drizzle. The crowd then moved to a tractor, where OPD slips were issued to them and a flyer in Assamese about steps to prevent diarrhoea.
The boat clinic is the most reliable health facility, which visits once every month, for more than 900 residents of Goroimari and more than 17,000 others in 29 more riverine islands in Morigaon district.
“We used to cater to around 30,000 people but many of the riverine islands have disappeared in the river in the last few years forcing people to move to the mainland,” said Shyamjit Pashi, the district programme officer of the boat clinic facility.
The clinics are needed more during floods, when diarrhoea, trench foot and fever among other ailments are common.
“It was on June 11, when this boat clinic came here that I got my last supply of medicines. I don’t have the money to go to town and during floods it was impossible,” said Jamila.
As on Monday, the death toll due to the floods increased to 69 as two more people died even as more than three million continued to be marooned in 18 districts of Assam, down from 30 of the 33 districts a week ago.
“We have done 10 camps and treated over 800 people since July 12 when the flood situation became severe,” young medical officer Digjam Sarma, who is one of the two doctors on the boat clinic, said as he attended to the long queue of patients at Goroimari.
On the next desk, the pharmacist handed them medicines as per their prescriptions.
Mukhtar Hussain, 37, a farmer, said he visited a pharmacy in the nearest town Moirabari, a one-and-a-half-hours away in a boat, as all of his seven family members including him fell ill with fever and other ailments in the floods. He spent Rs 2,000 on medicines yet the family continued to suffer. He came to the boat clinic hoping for relief.
“We give them free medicine and checkup unlike the private pharmacy,” said Ashraful Islam, the second doctor.
Islam rued that the long queue of people will mean his inability to give enough time to each patient. He explained that during floods, the boat clinics suspend their normal immunisation and awareness programme to look after those affected. In Goroimari, however, the immunisation drive was conducted.
Ashok Rao, programme manager of the boat clinic programme started by C-NES before the National Health Mission pitched in to support it, explained how the work for these clinics has increased during this season with the government using them for relief.
“In some districts, the government is using our boats to even organise veterinary camps,” Rao said.
He also said the government has also augmented the manpower with more doctors and support staff to attend to maximum patients.
The programme runs 15 boat clinics in 13 districts of Assam catering to more than 3,00,000 people inhabiting the riverine islands.
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