A litany of lame excuses has halted an ambitious central scheme to pedal forward maternal and child healthcare in the rural hinterland of East Singhbhum.
A fleet of new bicycles, which were purchased with National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) funds and were expected to increase the mobility of sahiyas (rural health workers), is lying stranded — weathered by sun and rain — on the civil surgeon’s office premises in Sakchi for two months now.
Reason: laggard mandarins of health are seemingly too busy to send the cycles to beneficiary blocks or are waiting to woo local MLAs for their presence during distribution.
Sahiyas are the vital cog between healthcare service providers and remote villages. They not just create awareness about safe (institutional) delivery and maternal concerns, but also about basic health and sanitation. Each revenue village has one sahiya, who is ideally a married woman of the same village. Currently, they travel kilometres on foot to spread the message about various government schemes. A pair of wheels can make their fatiguing job a tad easy.
In the 2011-12 fiscal, a sum of Rs 2.5 crore was allocated under NHRM to provide cycles to each and every sahiya across all the 24 districts of the state, initially in priority blocks of each district.
Of the 11 revenue blocks of East Singhbhum, three rebel dens of Chakulia, Dumuria and Dalbhumgarh were short-listed. A total of 657 cycles worth Rs 18 lakh were ordered for 657 sahiyas. The two-wheelers, however, arrived at the civil surgeon’s office unassembled in February. They were later put together, but only 88 pairs of wheels were distributed in Dumuria block.
As many as 269 bicycles are lying undistributed at the three block offices (see chart). The remaining 300 cycles are gathering both dust and rust — thanks to a Nor’wester and showers induced by a cyclonic formation — since March, when the private company handed over the assembled cycles to the district administration. As a result, half of the sahiyas in each block are still doing the government’s job on foot, sometimes braving the sun and sometime a storm.
Binapani Mahto, a sahiya in Khairbani village of Chakulia, said a cycle would have helped her reach remote hamlets faster. “The roads are sometimes very difficult to cover on foot. We heard that we will be given cycles, but none of us have got one yet. We are waiting eagerly,” the 30-year-old said.
District programme manager of NRHM Devendra Bhusan Srivastava insisted that they were “stuck up” with “several other health-related work” and would gradually send the cycles to respective block offices.
“We got the cycles only in March. Thereafter, we were busy with the pulse polio campaign and other programmes, which led to the delay in distribution of cycles. But now, we have asked block health officials to conduct functions and distribute the cycles among sahiyas. The dates will be finalised soon and the cycles lying here (civil surgeon’s office) will be transported to respective blocks promptly,” the senior health official said.
Civil surgeon Vibha Sharan echoed Srivastava and said they had started taking cycles to the three blocks in phases. “We have already sent 357 bicycles. Some of these have not been distributed among sahiyas because we plan to give them away in the presence of local MLAs. The idea is to honour the sahiyas,” she said.
Sharan said the district administration was talking to the legislators and function dates would be finalised soon. Refusing to accept that getting dates from MLAs might delay the programme, she added: “We simply cannot distribute cycles among sahiyas. As per norms, they have to sign an affidavit, stating that they would return the cycles when they no longer work as sahiyas.”