Making Rural India Healthy at its Doorstep

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MAYA (Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness) is empowering women from rural areas to provide doorstep health services to community members.

According to a 2014 report by WHO, non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) contribute to around 5.87 million deaths that account for 60 percent of all deaths in India. More than two-thirds of the total deaths due to NCDs in the South-East Asia Region of WHO occur in India. With NCDs causing an alarming number of fatalities in India, it is crucial to assess this alarming situation. And emphasis on preventive healthcare can go a long way in combatting NCDs. Keeping this in mind, MAYA, (Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness) a Karnataka-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), has taken up the initiative to empower women in rural areas to provide doorstep health services to their community.

In Channapatna taluka, which is popularly called the Town of Toys, rural women are trained to be ‘Health Navigators’. They go door-to-door to provide affordable medical services to their clients. What started off four years ago with just six navigators, the program now has 40 ladies doing their job passionately.

“We decided to pilot an initiative on preventive health care, where women from the community are trained and encouraged to become micro-entrepreneurs in the health space. These women, who are health navigators, offer health services to community members at their door-step. The increase in the disease burden compels healthcare systems to focus largely on curative services, with little attention being paid to preventive aspects. Health Navigators educate people on health issues and empower them to take ownership of their own health,” says Rashmi H, Social Development Head, MAYA.

The NGO trains women from the local community, who work with around 600-700 families to bridge the gap of accessible health services.“We believe in the ability of the community to address its own issues with appropriate support, and this is the key to sustainability . The model we’ve created is built around the idea of social entrepreneurship,” says Rashmi.


What aspects are covered while training health navigators? “They are trained in identifying cases with their hand-held screening devices. They also provide residents with health education – for instance, individuals with blood pressure, sugar or anaemia are counselled on dietary and lifestyle changes. Currently, Health Navigators use devices like the glucometer, equipment to test hypertension, to conduct screening for early detection etc. They even carry out risk factor mapping and counseling for people who are at a risk of developing such health issues. Health navigators also alert people on when they need to see a doctor,” answers Rashmi.

With NCDs becoming a major problem across the country, Alex Rodriques, CEO, MAYA says, “NCDs can further lead to complications like cardio vascular issues or kidney failure and dialysis. These are costly procedures. We want people to improve their health by making lifestyle changes. In an emerging economy like India, a large section of people don’t access health facilities even if they exist because of lack of knowledge. Our idea is to make people access health facilities at an early stage instead of allowing them to bear the brunt of serious issues.”


Quite a few community members have benefitted from this program. “People are availing these services, getting themselves checked, knowing the status of their health and are continuously being updated about it. In fact, many of them realized they had BP or sugar for the first time, during the screening conducted by Health Navigators. A large number of people have seen improvement in their health status and the number of people seeking health services has been steadily increasing,” shares Rashmi.

With numerous people being wary about paying for a service that is offered at their doorstep, it took some convincing to turn the residents into clients. With word of mouth being their strongest tool, MAYA’s program has managed to see positive signs including the reduction in the attrition rate of health navigators.

Do they intend to expand their program to other talukas? “We’re trying to validate the effectiveness of our program before deciding to scale up. We work with partners – we are currently working with our sister concern MAYA Organic. Whenever there’s an organization in a local area, we’d like to renew models for health navigators and then, we’ll scale up. Right now, we are fine-tuning our protocols with hospitals like Baptist Hospital and looking at research opportunities to see long-term impact,” reveals Alex.

Author : Ikyatha Yerasala

Ikyatha Yerasala is a consulting correspondent who brings with her a varied experience in interviewing some very interesting people – from sports stars to actors and artistes. A true blue Bangalorean, she’s passionate about women’s rights, music, cricket, movies and rasagullas. She hopes to see more research focusing on invisible illnesses.

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