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Herbal Based Health Care

Adivasi areas of East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts have seen a decline in the overall health situation. People in these areas suffer from endemic health problems such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria, gynaecological problems, diarrhoea and jaundice. Malarial deaths during the monsoon season are not uncommon.

Access to mainstream health care in these areas is limited. The government has not allocated adequate resources to cater to the basic health needs. Epidemic diseases have been neglected in terms of remedial and preventive measures. Adivasi communities inhabiting these areas are without proper access to clean drinking water, sanitation and adequate nutrition and thus vulnerable to disease.

Meanwhile, changing lifestyles and food habits, due to external forces, have resulted in the decline in local health care knowledge and resources. Consequently, this has led to the dependence of the adivasi community on unqualified private health practitioners (quacks), whose services are expensive and often ineffective. In addition, the government has not made an attempt to understand, recognize and develop prevailing local herbal based knowledge systems that could materialize in community based health care practices that would be socially and economically relevant in the adivasi context.

In 1993, Laya started exploring the viability of traditional medicinal knowledge systems within the community and its legitimacy in the region. What began as a process to study and revitalize traditional knowledge systems has now developed to form the Herbal Based Community Health Care Unit. In this unit, Laya has developed a set of processes that ensure safe, effective, accessible and affordable health care within the adivasi community based on traditional health practices involving traditional health practitioners (vaidus) and trained community health practitioners.

In 2003, a center for traditional health care "Vanantharam" was built to lend visibility to traditional adivasi medicine whose legitimacy in practice was being questioned by the mainstream so called modern medicinal system. The purpose was also to bolster the confidence and credibility of existing Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs), besides creating a space for young men and women interested in practicing herbal medicine to acquire value added skills to function as Community Health Practitioners (CHPs).

Promotion of Health Care at Local Level

Regular health camps are organized at the weekly markets (shandies), where there is a regular gathering of the local community. Located in a small hut/stall, the Community Health Practitioners offer medical advice and treatments through herbal medicine.

Community Health Centers are located in the village where they serve as nodal health centers run by Community Health Practitioners (CHPs) for villages nearby.

Traditional Health Centers operate in the same manner as the Community Health Centers, except that they are run by Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) who are members of the THP Federation.

The community can also approach Vanantharam for various health care services.

Promotion of Herbal Gardens

Two mother herbal gardens have been constantly upgraded and maintained in Gummaripalem village in Y. Ramavaram mandal and Vanantharam in Addateegala mandal, both in East Godavari district. They are each equipped with approximately 200 varieties of medicinal plants. These mother herbal gardens produce seed material and are used for training and demonstration.

Medicinal plants are raised in Vanantharam for use in the healing of common illnesses and to supply to various community herbal gardens and interested individuals.

58 Community Herbal Gardens have been established, maintained and upgraded in two districts, East Godavari and Visakhapatnam. Each garden is equipped with 30 to 50 medicinal plants, which are useful in healing common diseases and are situated in primary schools, community health centers (CHC) and traditional healing centers (THC). These herbal gardens are looked after by the community.

Special Needs of Adivasi Women

The Herbal based Community Health Care Unit has focused on activities that cater to the specific needs of women. The focus has been on increasing nutrition levels and facilitating traditional women health practitioners in being able to treat gynaecological problems. To achieve this purpose, kitchen gardens have been promoted and workshops are being organized on women's health related issues.

Sensitized Tribal Community on HIV/ AIDS

HIV/AIDS is an issue that we have focused on since 2010. The objective is to create awareness among students and the community, as well as sensitizing health practitioners. Meetings and workshops have been organized with this aim. In order to create awareness, we conduct a rally in Addateegala on December 1st World AIDS Day.

Skill Upgradation Training for Community Health Practitioners (CHPs)

A community health practitioner is someone who practices traditional medicine and serves, in most cases, as the first health care support for adivasis who live in remote areas where mainstream healthcare is inaccessible. The Herbal Based Community Health Unit works with the community health practitioners and conducts regular trainings and skill upgradation to enhance their knowledge and practice.

Skill upgradation and trainings are conducted with community health practitioners on subjects involving identification of medicinal plants, collection methods of herbs, diagnosis and preparation of medicines, women's health problems, epidemic diseases, testing of drinking water, skin related diseases, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, diagnosis of diseases and immunization. These were conducted across East Godavari, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts.

Intensive Training on Herbal Medicine Preparation and Healing for Youth

Every year, a six month-long training is organized for adivasi youth from East Godavari, Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram districts, who after the training serve as Community Health Practitioners providing health care in their respective villages at a reasonable cost. The course is split into six modules and is situated locally in the two districts with one central program. The curriculum comprises understanding human anatomy, diagnosis of diseases and preparation of medicines for 16 common diseases: headache, common fever, cough, constipation, indigestion, white discharge (leucorrhoea), red discharge, menstrual pain, skin diseases, jaundice, dysentery, joint pains, earache, mouth ulcer, malaria and piles. On completion of the program, certificates and medicine preparation instruments are presented to the trainees to enable them to practice.

Skill Upgradation Training for Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs)

To expand the outreach of traditional health practices the Herbal Based Community Health Care Unit has initiated training programs with THPs building on their existing knowledge. Laya has been working with them to upgrade their knowledge and skills as well as address issues that arise during their practice. Traditional Health Practitioners are trained in hygienic medicine preparation methods as well as identification and collection of medicinal plants. Exposures are organized for THPs between the two districts to facilitate learning.

Accompanying Traditional Health Practitioners Network

The Herbal Based Community Health Care Unit envisions its role as accompanying the THP network to strengthen traditional healing centers by institutionalizing the network. A number of regular meetings have been facilitated with the THPs to enable sharing of experience among THPs, identify new THPs, provide training on how to raise herbal gardens near the Community Health Centers, provide identity cards, insurance as well as Panchayat resolution certificates as testimonials to network members. The membership in the East Godavari Network has increased gradually to 135 members and in Visakhapatnam to 115 members. The local demonstrations by the THPs to challenge the indiscriminate transport of medicinal plants is one of the outcomes of the networking process.

'Herbal Melas' in Vanantharam, East Godavari district

Herbal Melas are conducted about once a year to exhibit a number of varieties of live medicinal plants, tubers, barks and seeds at Vanantharam. In conjunction, a mega health camp is also organised. A number of visitors attend every year, such as government officers, political leaders, ayurvedic, allopathic doctors and traditional health practitioners. The last Herbal Mela registered an attendance of 500 people.

Vanantharam Pharmacy

'Vanantharam Pharmacy' was registered in December 2012. Currently, Ayurvedic and Herbal medicines are prepared by Vanantharam Pharmacy for 16 common diseases. The medicines are supplied to the Community Health Centers, Regular Health Centers and Special Health Camps. Currently, 8 herbal products are marketed within the tribal area for healing common diseases and 2 of the herbal products are produced and marketed in bulk.

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