Clean premises, well-lit corridors, two separate toilets for women with sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators, and a children’s park.
What does it take to bring a Primary Health Centre (PHC) on par with some of the best government health facilities in a state? At Noolpuzha in Kerala’s Wayanad district, the answer is a panchayat ready to open its purse strings, a dedicated team of doctors — and Dr V P Dahar Mohammed in charge.
Bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Noolpuzha is the second largest tribal panchayat in Kerala. Two years ago, Dr Mohammed took over as medical officer of the PHC, which was established in 1973. Last year, this centre was among the first set of 35 PHCs that were converted to family health care centres by the state as part of its mission to make such facilities more patient-friendly. Just two weeks ago, it received a certificate from the Union Health Ministry for scoring 98 per cent in the national quality certification of PHCs, among the highest in this category.
Today, this is the only PHC in Kerala with an in-patient wing, a labour room, an e-health system, telemedicine facilities and a modern lab that offers upto 40 different tests. Until two years ago, doctors say, the centre got only around 50 patients every day in the out-patient (OP) block — now, that number is 250.
”When I joined this PHC, the construction of the new OP block was over. But I got the freedom to set up the facility. I designed the block with three partitioned OP rooms, a pre-consultation room, a counter and pharmacy and a lab on par with a private facility. My concern was all about giving healthcare facilities in a state-run facility on par with those in private corporate hospitals,’’ says Mohammed.
Inside the waiting room, are sofas and an electronic display board to alert patients about their turn at the OPD. At the foyer, an audio visual primer on health care plays on an LED screen. The 10-patient ward has modern beds. And apart from the one cleaning employee allotted by the health department, the panchayat has hired two others on its own.
There are four other doctors, too — Lipsy Paul, Sajna Roy, Siby S and Mercy George — apart from four nurses, a lab technician and a pharmacist. “We initiated brainstorming sessions among ourselves and planned the centre’s growth to adapt to the local community, particularly tribals,’’ says Paul.
The open area within the compound is a children’s park. “Children coming here should feel at home. But these days, tribal children from the settlements nearby come here in the evenings to play at the park,” says Mohammed.
Noolpuzha is also one of the first health facilities in Wayanad to be part of the health department’s Aadhaar-based e-health project. With panchayat funds, it has hired an engineering graduate to run the tech end, where the profile of a patient, background and health statistics are maintained in a server for recall from any other facility in the state.
Another popular initiative is the construction of two women’s toilets with napkin vending machines and incinerators. “Our women have learned to use napkins and maintain menstrual hygiene,’’ says Surya O S, a tribal health worker, a post that was created for the community after Mohammed took charge. On Wednesdays, the telemedicine unit ensures that patients can consult dermatologists at the district hospital in Mananthavady, 47 km away.
There are plans now to construct two traditional houses for tribal women in advanced stages of pregnancy. “This is aimed at reducing home delivery among tribals. If we can shift to a house inside the compound with a traditional environment, they would be more willing to get admitted before delivery,’’ says Mohammed.
Noolpuzha panchayat president K Shoban Kumar says the panchayat has invested Rs 1.83 crore in the PHC over the last three years. “At least 43 per cent of the population here is tribal. And no other panchayat in Kerala has invested consistently in a PHC like this. We have a good medical officer and a team of doctors with a vision to implement various projects. That’s why we are happy to provide the funds,’’ he says. All services are free of cost — the registration token costs Rs 3, but tribals and patients below 18 don’t have to pay.
”My family now completely depends on this centre. This has more facilities and doctors… We don’t have a good hospital like this in the nearby areas. Even people from other panchayats come here for treatment,’’ says Shaila M, a tribal resident of Noolpuzha.
”This centre could achieve national excellence due to the intervention of the local panchayat body, which reposed faith in the vision of the medical officer and his team. The health department gave support, mainly in terms of manpower. Other panchayats are now showing interest in investing in the government healthcare network,” says Dr Abhilash B, the Wayanad district programme manager of National Health Mission.
The next step in Noolpuzha: e-rickshaws to ferry patients from the nearest bus stop.