When you set out to do what nature wants of you, the universe cooperates with you. Swasthya Swaraj (SS) came into existence because one person responded to this call within, disturbed by the shocking levels of inequality in healthcare in a tribal area and plunged herself into the deep waters not knowing what lay beneath.
RECALLING THE JOURNEY – by Founder Dr. Aquinas Edassery
Inspiration: “ When you throw a party, do not call your rich neighbours and relatives and friends, but the poor, the lame, the dumb, the neglected, who cannot pay you back,” This was the sentence from the Gospel which I stumbled across years ago and set off on the journey of exploration in search of the poorest, the most neglected, the last man or woman and child; leaving the secure and risk-freeportals of secondary and tertiary care hospitals and walking into the uncharted areas of community health and primary healthcare. The first halt was in Karnataka in Chamarajnagar district, with the final destination being Kalahandi, Odisha. The fascination with Kalahandi started from the time I read P. Sainath’s ‘Everyone Loves A Good Draught’ years ago. This region, way beyond the back of the beyond beckoned me, although I had never been there and finally I came here in 2013. When none else understood or had the courage to walk with me, Sister Angelina, a senior lab technician joined me on the journey.
Incubation: The initial one year was a period of intense search and exploration in an unknown and completely inaccessible territory. Selco Foundation (SF) from Bangalore which also wanted to delve deep into Odisha joined hands with me and so started the joint explorations. The team consisted of Ms. Palak Aggarwal, a young development consultant from SF, Angelina and myself. SF incubated the small team and helped in birthing a Society which was christened by Dr. Yogesh Jain as Swasthya Swaraj Society. Dr. Harish Hande, the founder of SELCO was the first President of the Society.
Ideology: The Swasthya Swaraj logo was conceptualized and designed by Dr. Ashish Changole and it communicates our ideology with clarity. It is a deep yearning of the poor masses for freedom from within and without, from the shackles of ill-health, illiteracy and poverty– towards a people’s health movement.
From the very beginning young doctors started joining the team from different parts of the country. All who came were passionate about closing this yawning gap of inequity in healthcare and were not interested in personal gains.
Supporters: Tata Trusts who were looking for health partners in south-west Odisha, readily offered to help the new undertaking even before the legal formalities were complete. The new society elected Dr. Suranjan Bhattacharji from CMC Vellore as the new President in place of Harish Hande who resigned. Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) Ganiyari, Bilaspur was the strongest support system for Swasthya Swaraj from the very beginning
September 2013 – Weekly out-patient clinic in Kaniguma started at the Rajeev Gandhi Seva Kendra.
December 2013 – Monthly training of 42 Swasthya Sathis or voluntary health workers from 42 tribal-dominated villages of Kaniguma cluster (from 4 gram panchayats). Weekly out-patient clinic in Kerpai, 45km from Kaniguma in SVA building.
March 2014 – Registration of Swasthya Swaraj Society.
July 2014 – Monthly training of 35 Swasthya Sathis or voluntary health workers from 35 villages of Kerpai and Silet gram panchayats. Baseline survey in both clusters.
2015 – Antenatal-underfive clinics started in 8 locations. Official inauguration of Kaniguma health centre (24×7) by District Collector. Initiated adolescent girls’ training and empowerment program. Initiated “Ame Podibha Dorkhar” as a children’s movement for education
2016 – First ever mass screening for malaria by SS – found 39% was positive.
2017 – Initiated Health Promoting Schools program in 15 government primary schools.
March 2018 – Distribution of diagnostic kits to 28 trained Swasthya Sathis at a public function chaired by District Collector and local MLA.
As of 2019 – We are a team of 45 enthusiastic full time staff and 6 part time staff. More than 50% of the team are local adivasis who belong to a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Health seeking behavior of the tribal population increases. Infant mortality which was 152/1000 live births stands at 107/1000 live births. Under-five child mortality which was 284/1000 is halved to 142/1000 live births. Malaria continues to show a downward trend. Scabies controlled to zero levels. TB detection rates and treatment completion rates going up. More tribal women coming for antenatal check up. >90% tribal parents interested in getting good quality education for their children. Tribal adolescent girls show signs of awakening- interested to learn more. Interventions in 15 government primary schools in the remotest area slowly progressing.