Nihaal Mehta '14

HEALTH WORKER TRAINING IN RURAL INDIA

The current state of Indian healthcare is desperate. India ranks among the lowest nations in the world in such indicators as infant mortality and life expectancy. In addition, allocation of resources has been widely skewed toward urban areas, further negatively impacting the health of rural Indians. Much of the problem can be attributed to the widespread lack of health infrastructure, especially deficiencies in skilled manpower. While a wide network of rural health practitioners (termed PMPs for Private Medical Practitioners) exists, the majority are poorly trained and practice medicine haphazardly and incorrectly. They are often colloquially referred to as "quacks." Through our project, we look to begin transforming this existing network into a legitimate health delivery system. We will do this through a training program that addresses the following problems among PMPs: lack of technical skill, lack of knowledge about proper medical practices, inability to be regulated, and lack of access to facilities. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive academic knowledge; years of medical school cannot be compressed into a few months. Rather, through hands-on training and vocational exposure, our program teaches the most important aspects of medical care. In this way, we will equip rural health practitioners to provide higher quality care. For things cannot continue this way. If we continue treating “quacks” as merely part of the problem, they will continue to be. It is time instead to view PMPs as a solution, one for which rural India has waited far too long. Only then can they become that.

Personal Statement

Lines of people that numbered in the thousands. A yard of surgical suture for a day’s worth of cases. Patients who walked hundreds of miles half blinded by cataracts, praying they wouldn’t be denied care because of more urgent cases. This is the state of healthcare in rural India as my father, an ophthalmic surgeon who spent months working in clinics, described it to me. I remember this description vividly, both for how it shocked the young American-raised boy who until then thought half-hour waits before annual physicals represented the nadir of any health system, but also for how it both planted in me the first seeds of purpose. I wanted to do something about it.

Years ago, that young Indian-American boy was shocked at the abysmal state of health care thousands of miles from home. He was also confused. Why was I, he asked, the grandson of a poor Indian villager, so privileged as to have been well educated, nourished, loved and cared for in the world’s richest country when the same people from which I am only two generations removed can scarcely find basic medical care?

Years ago, I was that boy. Now, I realize that by looking to the future instead of dwelling on the privileges I have been gifted, I can better see how best to give back. That seed of purpose from long ago remains, now a desire to work at improving the communities that supported every previous generation of my family. Healthcare is my passion. But it is also, I strongly believe, the single most effective path to uplifting lives. And to see it implemented in rural India would be to see it implemented in an environment where it has more potential to do good than perhaps anywhere else in the world. 

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