One can find them at all places where the public gathers. Many gather around them to find their blood pressure while some would want to know their blood sugar levels. For a more detailed check-up they come to one's home and collect a blood sample to get it tested and also get the result couriered the next day.
Meet Deepika Ramachandran and Vimala Mohan. They are just two faces among at least 40 active health workers in the district who are part of Santwanam, a health-oriented poverty alleviation programme launched by Kudumbasree Mission in association with Health Action by People, Thiruvananthapuram. There are several women in the urban and rural areas who have taken up this enterprise.
Their day starts early. Starting from their houses around 6.30 a.m. to reach out to their clients before 8 a.m. to take their fasting blood sugar level, and then going a second round to these houses to collect the postprandial blood sugar levels, they finish their morning working hours by 10.30 a.m.
Santwanam workers also provide detailed check-ups on thyroid, liver, kidney functions, lipid profile or even an executive check-up for who ask for them. An executive check-up costs only Rs. 1,000. The charges for blood sugar level check is Rs. 25 and that for cholesterol levels is Rs. 60. And they give an account of the blood pressure and BMI index for Rs. 10 each.
The two health care entrepreneurs have about 300 regular clients every month. It might go up or come down some time, said Ms. Deepika. But it has been an uphill task for building up the clientele, she said. “People are not easily convinced about our work,” she said. Many have a lot of questions to ask about the degree of hygiene practised by them, said Ms. Vimala. And then there are queries about where the blood is getting tested.
“However, when we tell them about the laboratory by Health Action by People and they get to talk to the doctors associated with the group, many of them from Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, they accept us as their health watchers because even if they forget to keep their monthly or quarterly tests, we remind them and reach their homes to test their health parameters,” said Ms. Deepika.
A minimum knowledge of science subjects at school level is enough qualification while a nursing certificate is an added qualification. Training by Health Action equips them to draw blood and check blood pressure and there is a re-training every three months. The Kudumbasree helped them get a loan of Rs. 1 lakh to start their enterprise.
On the move
An important aspect of this venture was to be mobile. A two-wheeler and medical equipment like the BP apparatus, glucometer, total cholesterol screening and weighing machine are what they had to buy with their loan money. Besides, the sugar testing strips were provided by Health Action after they deposited the required amount.
“Having a vocation that is useful to people earns us a respect and that is real empowerment,” said Ms. Deepika. “We enrolled for the programme as sceptics, but it has given us self-confidence and we have been able to build up our enterprise with the contacts we made. We plan our schedules months ahead and that gives us ample time to plan our work and build up our individual clientele”.