When you think of what can be done to improve the health of the people in rural India, you would come up with a list consisting of check-up camps, blood donation, distribution of free medicines and so on. But would it occur to you that above all this, it is education that can substantially improve the quality of health in the country? Dr Sunil Kaul, who was in the city to speak at the recently held TEDxAFMC event, speaks about how his NGO, The Action Northeast Trust (ANT), aims at empowering the people in the North East and improve the overall health of the populous.
“When we talk about health, we talk about mortality and morbidity. But the biggest determinant of health is whether the mother has passed middle school or not. More than doctors and medicine, it boils down to education,” says Kal, who has served as a medical doctor in the army for over a decade and has been associated with the Development Sector for over 25 years.
“When the mother is educated, infant mortality rate can be curbed. The ANT works to improve quality of life for the impoverished in north-eastern India. And the way to do this is to ensure that girls have access to education and cross middle school. “We started a school in the forest area for the girls in that part of North East. We also do everything we can to make it feasible for them to go to school, like give them cycles to travel back and forth. We don’t restrict ourselves to just giving medicines for the betterment of the health of the population,” he says.
With education as the primary priority, The ANT also works towards empowering women to earn a livelihood and sustain themselves. “When we started our weaving programme in the year 2000, there was no provision for health care as such in the area. People who could afford it were going to private sector. The means earning a stable income gave them the ability to afford health care,” says Kaul, adding, “We also worked on preventing things like witch hunting in villages. Over a period of time, after promoting education, explaining to people not to do it, we made a difference. It was a long-term effort, but with results. This is how education is vital.”
He believes that the government works in isolation and silence, but he prefers to make a difference from ground zero. “If you talk about violence-prone areas and communal violence, it stems from domestic violence. When the husband beats the wife, the wife beats the children and the children grow up thinking that violence is the best solution for everything because that’s what they’ve been subjected to. It has a trickle-down effect. Violence in society should be addressed by starting with the violence at home. And it can be accomplished by education of the public,” says Kaul, who believes that state-sponsored health care is a good model to follow for a country.