There is a direct link between poverty and ill health. Slum dwellers are at risk from a wide range of health problems and when they become ill they are often reluctant to seek treatment. Fear, ignorance or a lack of money to pay for healthcare can all cause them to suffer in silence. Poor health causes them to miss work, creating new financial problems. Increased poverty further endangers their health and that of their families, and the cycle continues.
Slum dwellers’ lack of education prevents them from protecting themselves against disease. A high proportion of children are malnourished and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Very few children are vaccinated against preventable diseases.
Malaria, typhoid, cholera and TB all thrive in slum conditions. Poor sanitation and hygiene cause diarrhoea that is deadly when people – most often children – become dehydrated. Local “quacks” act as unqualified doctors, giving health advice or medicine that can be more dangerous than the original problem.
It’s hard to find all the people with health problems in slums unless you live there. Asha has trained women who live in slums to work as Community Health Volunteers, or CHVs. They are ideally placed to keep a watchful eye on the health of their communities – particularly pregnant women, the elderly, children under 5 and TB patients.
Asha provides 6 months of training and then equips the women with a medical box so they can provide first aid, give oral rehydration solution for diarrhoea, and treat bacterial infections and other common ailments. They give advice on health and nutrition, and encourage people to immunise their children and consider family planning methods. If someone needs further information or treatment, CHVs refer them to an Asha clinic.
Many Asha slum areas have a health centre staffed by part-time doctors, nurses and paramedical staff. They are able to diagnose and treat patients, perform ante-natal checks and immunise children against preventable diseases. Mobile clinics enable slums without an Asha health centre to receive an equally high level of care.
For further healthcare, the Asha polyclinic has a sophisticated laboratory, ECG and X-ray equipment among many other facilities. A doctor and visiting consultants provide an excellent level of service at a fraction of what patients would pay elsewhere. In addition, Asha staff and CHVs have developed links with local hospitals and health institutions so patients can be referred whenever they need treatment not available at the polyclinic.
Asha’s multi-level healthcare system results in reduced child mortality, fewer maternal deaths, better nutrition, a lower birthrate and virtual eradication of preventable diseases. Entire communities become healthier, an important factor in reducing poverty.
Asha works hard to bring health-related information to slum communities on a wider scale, too. Public meetings, dramas, rallies and immunisation drives all heighten awareness and make people more likely to seek treatment for health problems.