Chennai

A link in the health chain

It was a Sunday. Not only that, the day was yet to emerge from the bowels of darkness. It was call of duty and K. Puraneshwari would not ignore it. At 3 a.m. that day, her mobile phone beeped. She could tell that the caller was agitated. It was a man who was seeking help for his wife who had suddenly developed labour pain.

He knew he could turn to Puraneshwari, a village health nurse (VHN) in Agaram Then, a small village panchayat near Tambaram.

The man and his wife were at their house in Thiruvenchery, a small hamlet around one kilometre away.

Wasting no time, Puraneshwari called the ambulance operator and asked him to head to the house immediately. Placing a medical kit in a decade-old moped, she reached the house in time. Before ambulance arrived, Puraneshwari administered first-aid to the woman, who gave birth to a baby girl a few hours later at the Primary Health Care Centre (PHC) in Madambakkam, a town panchayat.

This was a typical day in Puraneshwari’s workaday life. A science graduate, Puraneshwari is serving as a village health nurse for years now, and every day, she goes on house visits, offering residents basic health-related support. Her work mainly involves providing the right guidance in pregnancy and paediatric health.

“Every household in the village has my mobile number and vice versa. Getting a call in the middle of the night is not unusual, and I attend to every call. Without service-mindedness and patience, it is difficult to dispense one’s duty as a village health nurse,” says 41-year-old village nurse, who studied at SDNB Vaishnav College for Women in Chromepet. She got into government job 15 years ago.

At Agaram Then village, Puraneshwari covers a population of around 19,000 persons, covering areas like Kurnji Nagar, Annai Satya Nagar, Pathuvanchery, Thiruvenchery, Vengambakkam, Sakthi Nagar and Agaram Then. Except for Sunday, which is a government holiday, she visits households in each of these areas on a specified day in a week, attending mainly to expectant mothers and children below five years of age. She also ensures that patients benefit from the various health schemes offered by the government by getting residents to enrol in them. On an average, she gets more than 50 calls from the neighbourhood.

“Even Sunday, I get at least 10 calls from patients. We have to attend to every call. Literally, there is no holiday for us. My family understands my work and has been supportive since the Day One of the job,” she says.

As per norms, each village with a population of at least 5,000 persons in non-tribal and 3,000 persons in tribal areas should have one village health nurse (VHN).

Despite the misleading nature of this title, the role of a village health nurse is pertinent in both the urban and rural contexts.

A VHN will be attached to the nearest primary health centre (PHC) or urban primary health centre (UPHC). PHCs and UPHCs come under the control of the local bodies concerned.

Responsibilities of a village health nurse

Education & training

Anyone with a Class XII qualification, preferably with a science background, can apply for this job. After a two-year intensive health training at a PHC or a UPHC, a village health nurse will be given independent charge of a neighbourhood. The job of village health nurse is not restricted to women, but mostly women are appointed to this role as it involves taking care of pregnant women.

Primary role

The role of a VHN primarily involves taking care of pregnant women and children below the age group of five years, and this would include keeping tabs on their vaccinations, including those for DPT, polio and measles. A separate register is maintained on immunisation.

Continual care

She has to register all pregnant women from three months of their pregnancy so that the mother-to-be is provided with regular care including supply of iron and folic acid tablets and distribution of nutritious food supplied by the State government. The necessary nutritious food and medicine are provided to nursing mothers as well.

If there is any high-risk pregnancy case, a VHN will have to report that to the medical officer at the nearest PHC or the government hospital.

Her job does not end once the expectant mother delivers the child. Instead, she has to make at least three house visits post-pregnancy to ensure the mother and the newborn are in good health.

Nutrient-supplements should be given to the mother and the child, till the latter reaches the age of five.

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2020 10:02:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-link-in-the-health-chain/article29931118.ece

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