Anand Sankar was in his late 20s when he started making regular visits to Dehradun from Delhi. A journalist by profession, he covered rural development, and formed a bond with people across villages dotting the landscape of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
He had heard about the remote village of Kalap, in the Garhwal region sometime in 2007, but visited it only six years later, in 2013. Somehow, Kalap, where Nature was as lovely as life there was difficult, never stepped out of his heart. He decided to move base to Dehradun that year and set up a trekking company organising trips to Kalap. He always carried a stash of over-the-counter drugs for guests.
“At one point, I realised I was constantly handing out medicines for common ailments such as fever, cold, body aches…” Anand says.
People were also seeking referral to to the nearest big town of Dehradun for treatment or his help to decipher the doctor’s prescription.
This led Anand to set up an NGO to work on the ground and help people in a more structured manner. “These villages see an exodus of talented people. There are no opportunities and the young move out. Those who live there are beyond retirement age. People in the best years of their life, when they can contribute to their village, are elsewhere.”
In January 2016, the 2000-sq ft Tons Valley Community Health Centre was set up in the village of Kotgaon and serves 37 nearby villages. It is run by The Kalap Trust and is largely being funded by corporate and institutional donors.
Operational costs, which include paying for medical professionals at ‘below the market rate’, stand at Rs 5 lakh a month. Costs are kept low, simply because of necessity. “There is very little money, and we have to stretch every rupee.”
However, running a tight ship, and scaling to meet growing demands don’t always keep pace. Till October 2019, the hospital had two doctors and as many nurses. “We managed to make it work by keeping our operation as lean as we could, making do with the best we can.”
Since then, the clinic has been facing a severe cash crunch, and has temporarily closed doors. . “We know we are making a huge difference, which is why we have been struggling to keep the project alive, collecting rupee by rupee,” says Anand.
Last winter, a heavy vehicle driver from Kotgaon met with an accident in Himachal Pradesh and was operated upon in Chandigarh. They had to stitch up his abdomen, and he needed daily care. Chandigarh was getting expensive and so he returned home, to Kotgaon.
For 45 days, the clinic looked after him, charging only 20 Rs for dressing. He would have to be carried two-three km to the clinic, and back. “He spent probably Rs 1,500 on post-surgical care, and was able to go back and earn a living. His quality of life is back,” Anand says.
A centre like this makes a huge difference in such a situation, because “being within your own community, family, and social structure helps in the recovery process,” Anand explains.
The Tons Valley Community Health Centre, which is now temporarily closed, functioned as a triage centre, offered emergency trauma assistance and stabilised patients for the trip to Dehradun, about 200 km and eight hours away, for better care. If Kalap raises funds soon enough, within the next three years, they intend to run a centre that can monitor / care for people overnight as well, till such a time they can be moved.
So far, it has been receiving grants / funds from corporate and institutional donors such as MEL, Bengaluru, The Talent Enterprise, Dubai, and Treffer Technologies, Coimbatore. For a year in between, the Tata Trust also funded the clinic.
In line with it’s long-term vision, The Kalap Trust has is put together a study of the area’s health parameters in the public domain. “The data was collected over nine months, and focusses on women and children. Without data you cannot have long-term intervention. We did not even scratch the surface,” says Anand, who recently won the Rashtriya Swayamsiddh Samman awarded by the CSR arm of Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL).
For people in the remote region, the emergency injections, clinical drugs and dressings provided free by the clinic are nothing short of a lifesaver. To ensure the clinic is stocked, a supply run is carried out once in 45 days. After all the work put in, if the clinic does stop functioning, not only will it mean the end of a dream to provide affordable/accessible healthcare, but also the crushing of people’s hopes.
After all, for three-plus years, they got used to the idea that they need not travel 200 km to access healthcare. Let that sink in: 200 km for basic healthcare!
(Subha J Rao is an independent journalist based out of Mangaluru. She contributes to a clutch of publications on cinema, sustainability and food.)
If you wish to volunteer/donate to Kalap Trust, please contact: +91 7710089076