The health sector in India is chronically sick, to say the least. Communicable diseases comprise 28% of the disease burden carried by the country and noncommunicable ones up to 60%. Delve deeper and the statistics are grim: every year 1.8 million children under five perish in India due to illness and 45,000 mothers die during pregnancy or childbirth. The human suffering and economic loss behind these tragic numbers rarely get the attention they deserve. Tata Trusts’ initiatives in the health sector are aimed at helping make a difference in this challenging situation.
The Tata Trusts portfolio in health takes in women and child health, nutrition and diseases. Its mother and child health projects are community-based and anchored by people trained in rural health development. In nutrition, fortified foods are made available at affordable prices and community kitchens have been set up.
The Trusts’ initiatives in mental health range from creating awareness and improving access for patients to training mental health workers, helping the homeless among the mentally ill and institutional reform.
Worthy of mention here is the National Cancer Grid, a network of 114 cancer centres, research institutes, patient advocacy groups and charitable organisations, set up by the Indian government. Tata Trusts is assisting in expanding the reach and scope of the Grid to ensure standard treatment and research protocols across India.
The Trusts, with its partners, has also embarked on the largest breast and cervical cancer screening drive in India. It will be establishing cancer care centres in underserved areas, the span of the work covering places in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and the northeastern states.
Capacity building of the health workforce in India is another core area for the Trusts, which collaborates with partner organisations to take this forward. Additionally, it has set up technical support units in partnership with the state governments of Madhya Pradesh and Telangana to fuel innovations and help build technology and managerial skills.
A separate and significant effort relates to addressing the deadly dangers of malaria — which afflicts tribal communities disproportionately — and drug-resistant tuberculosis. Tata Trusts has been seeking out solutions to tackle the malaria menace in tribal areas through direct demonstration and intensive surveillance and case management, and by training community health workers and partnering state governments. In tuberculosis, its recent initiatives include collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.
“We have a big-canvas approach to finding healthcare solutions,” says HSD Srinivas, who heads the health portfolio at Tata Trusts. “Our teams are encouraged to take risks and demonstrate new ways of doing things. This approach encourages the use of technology to find solutions and the application of principles used in other sectors for better results.”
The ‘Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana’ programme has reached out to more than 1.4 million households in 42 districts of Uttar Pradesh’s most backward and poverty stricken regions. Malnutrition and anaemia are primary among the concerns of the programme, through which training is given to self-help groups on the issues involved and the community is educated on the need to incorporate double-fortified salt in their diet. This Tata Trusts project also works to build capacity and empower women through the distribution and sales of double-fortified salt.
Training classes are conducted as part of Jagori Kishori — which translates as ‘awaken young girl’ — a component of the ‘Akshada Programme’, which unfolds in the rural reaches of Rajasthan as a partnership involving Tata Trusts, the state government and the Antara Foundation. This initiative concentrates on improving maternal and child health. It includes capacity-building among frontline health workers, house visits and counselling, mapping of villages, and educating people, especially women, about dietary supplements, immunisation and other health interventions that can benefit both mother and child.
Adolescent girls and young women in the 15-18 age bracket line up to join the battle against anaemia under the ‘Eastern Uttar Pradesh Initiative’, made operational by Tata Trusts in nine districts of the state in partnership with local community-based organisations. The big objective of the programme is to build community platforms that deliver primary healthcare services for adolescents, women and children. The project is calibrated to prevent anaemia in adolescent girls and to demonstrate the efficacy of a community-based model for anaemia management that draws on the skills of frontline health workers.
Patients at Nagpur Regional Mental Hospital. Tata Trusts has partnered with the Maharashtra government to provide services to 150,000 patients in Nagpur Regional Mental Hospital under its ‘Mental Health Initiative’. The Trusts also supports the ‘Vidarbha Psychosocial Care and Support Programme’ started in Yavatmal and Ghatanji areas in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Run in collaboration with the District Mental Health Programme, it has enabled people to identify mental health needs and come forward to seek help. Currently more than 330 persons with mental health issues are being treated under the programme. Community engagement is a key component of the programme, with awareness and stakeholder meetings helping sensitise people to mental illness.
Students at the Eklavya Model Residential School in Mundhegaon near Nashik in Maharashtra enjoy a wholesome meal provided through the ‘Annapurna Centralised Kitchen Project’, undertaken by Tata Trusts in partnership with the Tribal Development Department of the Maharashtra government and Bengalaru-based nonprofit Akshaya Patra. The kitchens cater to about 12,000 children (mostly tribal) in over 20 schools, serving nutritious and tasty meals every single school day. The project was launched in June 2015 with the setting up of two centralised kitchens in Mundhegaon and Kambalgaon in Palghar district.
The ‘South Odisha Initiative’, jointly undertaken by Tata Trusts and the Odisha government, kicked off in March 2016 with an ambitious goal: to eliminate malaria from the state within five years. Achieving this is easier said than done. The work includes intensive malaria control and prevention efforts, deployment of technology and research, generation of knowledge on the determining factors and epidemiology of the disease, and wide-ranging impact-assessment studies. Specific objectives include controlling malaria transmission in 607 villages spread across Odisha’s southern districts and a direct implementation programme that will benefit 3 million people in these districts and 8 million overall.