November 06, 2007

Teen doctors take charge in villages

For most children, playing 'doctor doctor' is just that, child's play. But for some kids in Andhra's Nizamabad district, it's much more than that because they are handling real health emergencies and giving first aid.

They are the chinnari doctors or 'small' doctors, in the age group 8-14, who have been trained to handle small health emergencies in their villages.

Most villages in Nizamabad district lack proper health facilities. Some like Bodhan and Yedapalle don't even have a single hospital or clinic and the villagers have to either wait for the midwives from the government's health facilities to visit them or travel 9-10 km to the nearby towns. To do that, they have to wait for local buses that come to their villages once or twice a day.

''Villagers come to me first these days (for any emergency). If it's just a minor injury, I treat them. Else, I refer them to a hospital in the neighbouring town,'' says chinnari doctor Vinod, who studies in a zila parishad school in Karegaon, 6 km away from his village. He walks all the way to school, gains basic knowledge from health workers and carries his newfound expertise home to help his people.

Taking charge: The concept of chinnari doctors was born of the lack of basic health facilities in these villages. Plan India, an NGO, selected five children from nearly three villages some months back and gave them training about dealing with medical emergencies. These children now meet each other regularly and also the trainers to update themselves about the latest medical issues.

V P Shanthi, project manager, Samskar-Plan, says, ''The compounders have been treating the villagers. But they are not qualified, learnt the trick of the trade on the job, and charge a lot of money too. That's why we decided to teach these children about first-aid and other emergencies so that they can be self-dependent and help others too.'' Says 'Dr' Bhanuchander, 13, ''Every year, we are made to undergo at least four training camps. Then we are taken to government hospitals where we get first-hand experience.''

These small doctors carry a first-aid kit and attend to victims of burns, snakebites or fevers and other emergencies like accidents and drowning cases. Their kit contains an antiseptic cream, ointment, nail cutter, hydrogen peroxide, cotton, bandage, scissors and some tablets. ''I know what to do when someone's been saved from drowning. We have to press their abdomen and if they don't recover, we have to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In case of eye infections, we tell things like not to rub eyes and to wash with clean water only. We recommend them to wear dark glasses,'' says Virmani, another chinnari doctor of Karegaon. Adds 'Dr' Monica, a class VI student, ''Sunstroke is very common in Andhra Pradesh. So we teach people methods to prevent that.''

These children also try to debunk health-related myths. Vijaya, who is in class X, says, ''There are certain practices that have been followed for years but are absolutely wrong. For instance, people in our village have the habit of putting hot oil in ears. We tell them such things are wrong.'' She is among the three chinnari doctors in her village.

Spreading social awareness: They are also spreading awareness among girls and their parents on how the early marriage of a girl can affect her health. ''My friend got married when she was just 12. A few months later, she ran away from her in-laws' place after suffering a lot of mental and physical torture. Later, she died. Since then, I see to it that I tell as many people as possible about how harmful early child marriage can be,'' says another chinnari doctor.

Not only do the villagers listen to these kids, they also encourage them in every possible way. In fact, the villagers want them to grow up to be professional doctors and improve medical facilities to their villages. K Prabhakar Rao, headmaster of a small school in Karegaon, is all praise for them. ''They are all well trained. I feel dizzy when I see blood, but these kids are so brave,'' he says.

''The programme has inspired them to become doctors in future and to channelise their energy towards social service at a very early age,'' says Dr Srinivas, project doctor. Vinod adds, ''When I grow up, I will become a doctor and construct a hospital in my village.''That's no longer an impossible dream.

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