Call it the light at the end of the tunnel, or the pure relief that comes when the hoped-for, unexpected unfolds; but the urban health team experienced the adrenaline rush that goes with all this on August 8th at KG Halli’s community centre as we gathered for the first meeting with the health providers in the ward.
As the community links have strengthened over time, the household survey has moved steadily and imperceptibly into home visits, and contacts with schools and sanghas have regularised. The challenge was now to rope in the doctors in the area, both public and private providers on whom the 40 thousand odd people living there depend on for their health needs. Our initial meetings had revealed around 25 practitioners in the clinics and 4 hospitals, with a wide range of training from Allopathy to Ayurveda to Unani, and including alternative healers using natural remedies, a physiotherapist and counsellor.
Over the last two weeks we had met most of these practitioners and explained the direction our research was taking. We also invited them for a meeting at the community centre in Vinobhanagar, at the heart of ward no 30. Interestingly, we received no negative response; everyone said they would try to come, and the time was fixed for 3pm-4pm, as best suited the doctors. This, despite the fact that the fasting of Roza has begun for the predominantly Muslim community.
At the IPH end, now started fairly intense preparations for this event. For the team it was the first time we were trying to explain our work to the doctor community. Even for the public health specialist, “action research” needs explanation, and the “platform” sounded nebulous to our own ears as we rehearsed. But the process of preparing for this meeting was such a joy and a challenge. Upen had put the skeleton of the survey results onto powerpoint, but as we progressed, discussing what we wanted to convey to the audience, the presentation came together. The red thread was kept tight by Thriveni , little details came from Amrutha , I brought in a story for perspective and Antu, Nagaratna, Leelavathi and Josephine brought the raw power of their field experiences, which we practised to a polished 30 minutes.
Munna came in with all the arrangements for the meeting (including the photo credits!) and by 2.30 pm we were awaiting our guests. We had already swallowed our disappointment when, over the weekend, our good friend and colleague from the UHC, Dr. Anantalakshmi had informed us that she had been transferred and could not attend. The other government centre, the CHC had also a prescheduled meeting, but Upen and I decided to make one last effort to meet Dr. Mangala, the doctor in charge. We were richly rewarded in that a young doctor Dr. Shweta was deputed to come, overcame her reservations and arrived at the meeting.
At this point, between 3 and 3.20 pm I must confess to having kittens, as we waited ….and waited….and waited. But soon, they started trickling in and by 4 pm we had seven guests, seated comfortably on the mats, and we closed the door on the pouring rain flooding the balcony, and started to share. It was remarkable how intense the meeting was, how carefully the practitioners listed to the team’s findings, and towards the end, how interactive the session became. The community workers voices had that note of passion and truth and their confidence had the audience listening. Equally remarkable were the guests, from the wisdom and hope of Dr. Aftab , to the clinical expertise of Dr. Kulkarni, the participation was complete. Dr. Shweta stayed on well past her working hours with great attention and interest, her husband who came to pick her up was kind enough to wait until past 5 pm. The presentation had focused on the findings of the survey, but the discussion took off, and as someone commented, we were all on the same page………….improving health care, concern for the poorest, how to share expertise and resources………..these were the topics around which the talk revolved.
Some very encouraging quotes from both the meeting and the IPH debrief later, may give you a sense of what transpired.
… “ I never thought it would happen at 3 pm……….but the meeting was much better than expected”
…. “ Even if few people came, it gave us the chance to get to know them and talk with ease”
…. “ Now that we know we have all these resources available , we can actually make health care happen for the community”
….. “ We must have meetings like this every month, they are very informative”
….. “ It was a suuuper meeting!!”
….. “ There is lots of work ahead , but that was the point of all this, is it not?”
So where do we stand today? Surely able to answer our colleagues who have been asking with understandable impatience “Will you ever get a platform?”….in the affirmative. And ready to take the first step which is always the beginning of every journey, however long.