Universal Health coverage is one of the SDGs, which India is striving hard to achieve. While there is an overall shortage of doctors and healthcare practitioners in the country, it is more felt in the rural areas. It may take some time to set up a permanent infrastructure to ensure that adequate medical facilities are available in the rural regions of the country. Meanwhile, innovative solutions like ‘Digital dispensaries’ are doing very well in providing decent healthcare in rural areas of Keonjhar district of Odisha.
Keonjhar district, where most of the mining takes place, is extremely poor in healthcare facilities. Only about four percent of villages in Keonjhar have a primary health centre (PHC) within the stipulated five-kilometre distance, according to Brookings Health Monitor, which is based on government data and standards. Locals tell that many PHCs in the district face a shortage of medicines, resources and even ANMs and doctor.
In order to tackle this, eight digital dispensaries have been set up by the district, through District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trust so far on a pilot basis, in big mining-affected blocks such as Banspal and Joda and in marginally-affected Harichandanpur. The district has also engaged with Glocal healthcare, which specialises in rural healthcare services, in a public-private-partnership (PPP) model to deliver the service.
An auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) at the dispensary feeds in the patients’ symptoms into the software based on which the system connects to the best available doctor online at the time. The doctor prescribes the treatment or recommends basic tests. In cases where further examination or specialist intervention is required, they ask for a referral.
Barring delivery services and counselling services for family planning, nutrition etc., the dispensaries are providing most of the out-patient services that typically a PHC would provide.
Seeing the success of the pilot project, the Odisha government is expanding this to other districts in the state where healthcare services are poor.