Unnoticed by mainstream media forums, a thousand volunteer groups have put together a major survey of the state of health services available in the country in India. More than 2,000 people from all over India came to Kolkata for the National Health Assembly (NHA), to be followed by the global meeting in Bangladesh. Discussions at the meeting touched upon a range of issues from female foeticide and child malnutrition to medical professional reform, systems of traditional medicine and the impact of new world trade rules on public health. For Amruta S V and the other participants the assembly marked the culmination of the major health survey in which they had so recently participated.
The train journey to Calcutta symbolised a pilgrimage in its own way for India’s health workers.
The People’s Health Charter adopted at the NHA marked the climax of a four-month-old consultation process across the country, led by the All India People’s Science Network. The campaign soon took off. The national co-ordination committee eventually comprised 20 national organistions or networks – from the left-oriented to the religious-minded to the NGO brigades. Many had become involved in health issues for the first time. Later, some 1,000 groups across the country were to be involved in the public campaign.
The campaign conducted hundreds of district-level public inquiries into the state of people’s health and the availability and quality of health services, to develop area profiles on people’s health problems, the private and public health services available as well as the state of water supply, sanitation and education.
The findings were publicised through posters and by holding public meetings at the district, block and village levels. State co-ordinating organisations initiated dialogues with local health authorities, meeting with the medical profession to discuss internal reform, campaigns against malpractices, and programmes to monitor the work of government health services.
The aim was to gather popular support for mounting a serious challenge to current trends in public health and related policies, and to develop an alternative model of health care — a primary health system that derives its direction from the panchayats (elected village councils), education and medical departments as well as local organisations.
The current challenge is to sustain the PHA process. There are plans to set up a forum to demand health care as a fundamental right, to further pursue the dialogue built up with authorities, to create a lobby for policy change.