A doctor with patients inside a medical van. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
At least 50 people of Patharghata's Chapna village in Rajarhat wait eagerly for the mobile hospital that comes calling on alternate Tuesdays.
The all-woman team of doctors and paramedics meet patients at the hospital's OPD from 2pm to 4.30pm. From checking blood pressure and conducting blood tests and ECGs to distributing free medicines for fever and cold, the team does it all. They also have an oxygen cylinder and nebuliser with them.
NGO Smile Foundation runs two such medical vans, Smile on Wheels, in Calcutta, covering more than 30 urban slums and rural pockets in Rajarhat, north Calcutta, Salt Lake and south Calcutta.
An official said the NGO had been working in these areas since 2011.
"We draw up a roster and visit the target areas on a fixed day every alternate week. That way people know when they can expect medical help," said Tathagata Chatterjee, a project coordinator for Smile on Wheels. "Most of the patients are daily wage earners with little or no access to proper medical services. Free healthcare on their doorstep saves them time and money."
Rashida Bibi, 46, of Chapna said she regularly visited the hospital for medicines to keep her blood sugar level in check. "I have brought my grandson with me today. He has lost his appetite."
Most people turn up with respiratory complaints, acidity trouble and skin rashes caused by vitamin deficiency, said Sangeeta Dey, one of the doctors in the team who works in pockets of Rajarhat and north Calcutta. Rashes and gastro-intestinal problems are very common in the slum areas, she said. "I provide them with primary treatment and refer serious patients to nearest government hospitals."
Satnam Singh, the national manager of the Smile on Wheels programme, said: "We aim to make primary healthcare affordable, accessible and easily available for daily wage earners who often put off a trip to hospital for fear of losing a day's pay."