A multi-purpose health worker, posted at the sub-centre, was transferred around 2006. Since then, the sub-centre, located on the eastern slope of Burgur hills, has been closed, as the health authorities could not succeed in getting a replacement.

Over 1,500 families of Devarmalai, a remote village in Burgur hills, 70 km from here, and the neighbouring villages of the Erode district, were extremely happy when the district administration opened a health sub-centre nine years ago. Then, they all felt that their demand for easy access to basic health care services was met at last. But, their happiness was short-lived.

A multi-purpose health worker, posted at the sub-centre, was transferred around 2006. Since then, the sub-centre, located on the eastern slope of Burgur hills, has been closed, as the health authorities could not succeed in getting a replacement.

In the absence of the facility, residents , of whom tribals account for 40 per cent, have to undertake arduous trips to Anthiyur, 35 km away, even for their immediate health care.

Given the poor frequency of bus services, many villagers are forced to hire vehicles to reach Anthiyur. The worst affected are the expectant mothers.

“When the sub-centre was functioning, pregnant women in Devarmalai and nearby villages got their periodic checks done here. The women had to travel to the plains only for delivery. Now, they have to travel on badly damaged roads to reach the plains and undergo the monthly tests,” points out G. Pasuvan, a resident in Devarmalai.

S. Raju, a 30-year-old farmer in Iratti village, has to take his wife to the government hospital in Anthiyur every month. “We have to travel 10 km to reach Thamaraikkarai and change buses to Anthiyur, 25 km away. The only bus that connects Thamaraikkarai and the Iratti village makes just three trips a day. For an emergency, we have to call 108 ambulance services and wait for several hours to get first-aid,” he laments.

Like him, more than 5,000 residents in Devarmalai, Anaipodu, Madam, Kalvarai, Bejalatti, Vellimalai,Epathampalayam and Elachipalayam villages are put to avoidable suffering. “We have to travel to Anthiyur even to buy medicines for fever,” G. Murugesh, complains another resident of Devarmalai.

“We have petitioned the district administration umpteen times. We have even sent a petition to the Chief Minister’s special cell. The authorities did not appoint a resident health worker to the sub-centre, claiming that there was a shortage of manpower. We have been denied access to prompt basic health care for no reason other than the authorities’ inability to find a person to work in the sub-centre,” B. Bolappan, a resident of Devarmalai, points out.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) has been highlighting the problem of tribals. Two years ago, the district council adopted a resolution on the issue “We had requested the Deputy Director of Health Services to take steps to appoint a health worker but the Health department is yet to look into the issue,” says CPI district secretary V.P. Gunasekaran.

The Burgur council of the party passed a resolution in April this year and its members submitted a petition to the district administration. “We have made repeated representations to the officials. But no action has been taken so far,” says council secretary P. Appusamy. Deputy Director of Health Services C. Sekar admits there is shortage of multi-purpose health workers in the district. The government is making efforts to fill vacancies.