For the first time mobile medical units (MMUs) will be deployed to provide treatment for laborers in Assam’s tea gardens.
Under the auspices of the National Health Mission, 80 medical units made up of two vehicles each will visit 320 gardens in the 12 districts of the state to provide health services to the laborers.
When the initiative was announced June 20 Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Jagat Prakash Nadda tweeted: “Each MMU is equipped with diagnostic & laboratory facilities; will provide primary healthcare services exclusively for the tea garden areas.”
Nadda told the Times of India: “For 70 years, the basic needs of the garden population in terms of healthcare has been overlooked. Assam is among the highest tea growing states in the country and yet look at the status of its workers.” He added that the number of units will be increased if the plan is successful.
Secretary of Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA) Anjan Bhuyan told World Tea News that gardens have been asked to provide necessary help to the doctors and nurses in the form of food, lodging and security.
ATPA has 185 member gardens and is the oldest body of ethnic tea planters in Assam. Bhuyan said that 100 gardens belonging to the ATPA has been selected under the new scheme.
An official of the health department said that tea gardens were chosen where hospital/dispensaries are available but where the facilities are inadequate. The official said that small tea growers and bought-leaf factories (unorganized sector) have not been included in the initiative.
MMUs first began serving in rural parts of Assam, but not tea gardens, about a decade ago. Almost 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live in rural areas where doctors are few and access to care is acutely limited.
India’s maternal mortality ratio was 167 per 100,000 live births in 2013; the ratio for Assam was 302, the highest for any state in the country, according to Quartz India. The major causes of death are anemia, hypertension and sepsis.
“In our hospital, 80 percent of the mortality is from the tea gardens,” Dr. Reena Dutta, an associate professor at Ahmed of Assam Medical College and Hospital, told Quartz India.
Pullock Dutta, a World Tea News freelance reporter based in Assam, contributed to this report.