The poorest and most marginalized populations often have limited access to quality health care. This is certainly the case in rural Rajasthan where health indicators remain tremendously low. Within rural communities in the Thar, poor nutrition and sanitation lead to an overall lower health status. Chronic diseases like malnutrition are present among children and women lack access to gynecological and obstetric services. GRAVIS works extensively to improve the health status of communities in the region. On such intervention is the training of Village Health Workers (VHWs), who as a result of their work improve access to health services at the community level.
VHWs bridge the service gap by providing community health services including, health awareness training, immunizations, antenatal care, and performing deliveries, to villagers that would otherwise have limited or no access. VHWs are initially trained in first aid, disease recognition, pregnancy complications, maternal services, and hygiene. Later on, they continue to build capacity by learning new skills and information. VHWs are intended to function as a primary link between the community and the formal health care system.
In rural India, women are the most likely to need health care and the least likely to seek it out. A woman’s first interaction with a doctor may not be until she gives birth. VHWs are one way of linking women to formal health institutions. With VHWs providing care and support, women have the potential to be linked into a lifetime of formal healthcare.
VHWs also serve a very important role as point people for the dissemination of important health information to their communities. Through individual communication with community members or through attendance at gatherings such as SHG meetings, VHWs provide the community with information about immunizations, seasonal diseases, pregnancy, and medical camps. As long-time village residents, they are highly trusted and can communicate easily with their peers.
This trust can go a long way in terms of accessing quality health care. I recently met one VHW in Nayagon village, an elderly woman who is proud of her role as a conduit between her community members and formal health institutions. She told me a story of one woman who fell ill and went to the nearby clinic seeking help. When she didn’t receive the services she needed, she requested the help of this VHW who returned to the clinic with her. With the VHW’s assistance, the woman received the tests she needed to confirm a diagnosis of malaria. She’s now receiving proper care and is expected to have a swift recovery.
VHWs constitute an essential link between GRAVIS and the village in terms of health interventions. By supporting local health workers, GRAVIS is also inherently supporting the sustainability of healthcare services for village residents.
* Mia Schmid is an intern at GRAVIS and is currently completing a Masters in Public Administration from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Previously she has worked for the Firelight Foundation in Santa Cruz, California where she contributed to the organization’s learning management systems. Her work at GRAVIS focuses on women’s empowerment through Self Help Groups and skills training.