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Project Report

Medicines for child stonebreakers, Siliguri

India | RUN BY: The Silk Route Project | Status: completed
Dipok had a small scrape on the side of his ankle two weeks previous which had become infected. This was treated with antiseptic and quickly showed signs of recovery.
A number of communities of people live along the riverbanks surrounding Siliguri, northern India. They live in dire poverty and survive by earning a pittance from breaking river stones and selling the rubble to building contractors.

Most of these people are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh that have come across the border over the last 30 years. Unfortunately they are still classed as illegal immigrants despite many of families having lived there for more than a generation and no efforts have been made to relocate them. Importantly this means that these people don't have access to government education or health care, and they must rely on the support of the local NGO's.

Thanks to a AUD$1000 (34,976 India Rupees at that time) grant from Footprints, basic medical supplies were purchased, first aid was provided intensively for a week and an ongoing program of medical checkups launched.

Appraisal of Project 2006

In 2006 a similar project took place with AUD$500 of funds from Footprints. First aid was administered intensely at two riverbed communities (Chenga and Balason) for a week and then a supply of basic medicines, estimated to last the communities a year, was donated to be administered by Seva Kendra, a local NGO.

Seva Kendra reported that medical supplies donated in July 2007 only lasted 4 months. The types of supplies purchased were appropriate but simply lacked in quantity. The issue was principally our underestimating the communities' needs. Another problem was with some of the medicines approaching their expiry date. This is an issue when buying medicines in bulk but we made the decision to do so last year because we didn't know Seva Kendra very well and thought it was safer to give them physical goods rather than cash to buy supplies later. After a year's experience and discussions with other funding bodies that fund Seva Kendra, it was decided that the best course of action was to entrust the funds to them to manage.

2007 project outcomes

In July 8-15 Simon Davis and 24 final year chiropractic students offered basic first aid to the Stonebreaker communities from Murdoch University, Australia. This year we managed to service three communities (Chenga, Balason and Manza) with a combined population exceeding 8000.

Working out of the local schoolhouse in the communities (a one room shack) we would treat 100-150 patients each day, the majority being children. Conditions treated included chronic diarrhoea, skin infections, fungal infections, infected cuts, ear infections and eye infections. In addition to this all children were dewormed. A large number of patients with suspected malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV were also referred to the local hospital for further testing. Almost all patients revisited on subsequent days, which allowed us to monitor their improvement, and is also a very good indication of our acceptance into the communities.

Two children we treated in particular made me realise how simple and basic an intervention needs to be to have a huge impact.

Dipok Ray (see photo above) is a 10 year old boy we treated at Balason. He had got a small scrape on the side of his ankle two weeks previous and having only a bandage, he wrapped it up and left it. Unfortunately in the hot, wet, tropical environment the scrape had become badly infected and his whole leg was swollen, the bandage had turned black and smelled very bad. We cleaned the wound with antiseptic and anti-biotic powder, applied a fresh dressing and showed his mother how to change the dressing at home. When we saw him again two days later swelling in the leg had reduced substantially and signs of the wound healing were evident. We can never know for sure but Dipok Ray may well have lost his foot if it wasn't for this simple action.


Anju Kindo (see photo above) is a 6 year old girl we saw at Chenga. She presented with a large puss-filled cyst (approximately 4cm diameter) on her cheek that was very raised, infected, inflamed and clearly very painful. She said it had been there for 2 weeks and was getting bigger but she didn't know what caused it. It looked very much like an infected insect bite. We removed about 15ml of pus from the cyst, cleaned it, applied antiseptic and gave her relatives antiseptic cream to apply again at home. The treatment was repeated the next day and thankfully by the third day the cyst was completely reduced and there were no signs of infection. She was a very happy girl. And we can never be certain but if left untreated the infection could have spread to her eye and became very serious.

In total 9812 Rupees (AUD$280) was spent on basic medical supplies for the week. This is more than what was spent during the week last year because we covered a third community and had more students treating. Items purchased included Betadine liquid, bandages, band-aids, de-worming doses, latex gloves, saline solution, cotton wool, multi-vitamins, anti-fungal cream, broad spectrum antibiotics, antibiotic ear drops, antibiotic eye drops and syringes (for irrigating wounds).   See photo below that shows how far such a small amount of money goes when spent locally!

Ongoing plans in 2007

After the week's intensive treatment there remained 25,164 Rupees (AUD$720) of the funds remained and that was donated for ongoing basic medical care of the children of the three community schools- Manza (71 students), Balason (155 students) and Chenga (147 students).

The funds will pay for medical supplies for the children to be distributed by a doctor visiting the communities on a fortnightly basis. There will also be a de-worming of all children every 6 months, something that is very important in this area.

Seva Kendra staff also suggested that some of the funds be used to run trial "Awareness Camps" at the schools. This will involve to schools being visited by a trained animator to educate students and parents about basic health, sanitation and hygiene. I'm very excited about this; I think it's a great concept that has good potential for preventative care. They are expected to take place later in this year and Seva Kendra will report back in November.

Conclusion

The Siliguri Stonebreakers Project 2007 was a great success. Hundreds of people benefited from basic medical care that they otherwise would have no access to. In the space of only a week a tangible impact was made on the health of these communities, and it is reassuring to know that medical care, albeit basic, will continue for the children.

An equally important aspect of the Project is that it stands out as an example of what can be achieved with a relatively small amount of funds used effectively and at a grass-roots level. With the right intention and an appreciation of local needs it is possible for individuals to have a positive effect on the livelihoods of many.

Dr Simon Davis, project coordinator
(Update posterd 07 August 2007)

Original project proposal >>

 

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Project cost:(AUD) 1,000.00

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A.Rao J.Robson