Updated: June 22, 2021 11:56:39 am
Citing the recent announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Centre taking charge of the Covid-19 vaccination nationwide, Prof K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) spoke about a possible hurdle migrant workers could have faced otherwise: “What if chief ministers had said that they will spend state money only on their citizens.. the bona fide residents, what happens to the migrant?”
He added, “Health has to be elevated as a human right, and not a charity to be conferred upon the migrant.”
He was speaking at the third instalment of the eight-part webinar series ‘Thinc Migration’ by The Indian Express, presented by Omidyar Network India. Besides Reddy, the panel discussion included Ajoy Mehta, Chairman, Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority; Uma Mahadevan, Principal Secretary of Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka; Dr Pavitra Mohan, Director of Health Services in Aajeevika Bureau and co-founder of Basic Health Care Services; and Dr Vandana Prasad, Founder Secretary of the Public Health Resource Network (PHRN), and examined what needs to be done to bolster the provisioning of healthcare for migrant workers and their families.
Reddy added that one of the biggest challenges is the portability of services when people move locations. “What if the administration of the local body says that only those who are actually our voters are entitled to services? So if one can’t go back to their village, where the panchayat may give them recognition, what is their fate,” he said. He also raised the issue of data collection. “In September 2020, the Centre announced that by June 2021, a comprehensive database of migrants would be prepared. But as of now, the preparation has not started,” he said.
“When the migrant crisis took place during the first wave, the first reaction of bureaucrats and policymakers was: how do we get them back in an orderly fashion? However, we tend to forget that behind this order, there is a lot of chaos in the minds of the people. A migrant fundamentally is at the bottom of the pyramid, whether it is his economic status or social status, and the basic tenet of the policy has to be compassion,” said Mehta, who was the keynote speaker. He added that the health of the migrants should not be looked at as an enforcement issue, and also highlighted a lack of information among migrants, and how technology could be the way forward.
Mahadevan also favoured digital solutions but highlighted the issues arising out of a lack of documentation. “Why should we not give poor people access to their own health documentation, which they can carry with them?” she said, also adding that her team has created a platform where they connect requests for help with offers of support by mapping government facilities and civil-society groups.
Prasad pointed out that continuity of medical care is also a typical problem with migrants as there is no centralised system of medical records in this country. In the light of the pandemic, Prasad also highlighted the need for feminisation of vulnerability. “We continue to refer to them as mostly males, but that’s not the only migration, we have women as construction workers who do a lot of labour… and malnutrition and anaemia among women are very high,” she said.
Mohan said that healthcare issues in high-migration communities were not related to Covid-19 as much as to the closure of health services. “There was a significant reduction in immunisation coverage for three-four months and in tribal populations, the malaria epidemic also started rising with very limited access to care. Food shortage led to an increase in malnutrition levels among children,” said Mohan.
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