Laya makes a difference in empowering marginalized communities

Herbal Based Health Care

The adivasi areas of Andhra Pradesh have seen a decline in the overall health situation and generally have limited access to mainstream healthcare. Few qualified doctors are willing to be stationed in these remote regions. 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. 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.

Besides, the culture and practice of traditional healthcare especially for these communities, where health and treatment are closely interrelated with the environment, seems to be diminishing because of various reasons including lack of interest from the younger generations. The absence of a responsive healthcare delivery system has led to growing exploitation by self-proclaimed doctors called quacks in the area.

For LAYA, while working for the development of these communities, we realised that mainstream healthcare had very little impact on the wellbeing of these communities. We began to understand that if we had to make a positive dent to the wellbeing of the communities we would have to develop our own expertise and knowledge drawing from the traditional wisdom and the natural resources available within the communities.

Hence in early 2000 we undertook a need assessment with a focus on Herbal-Based Health Care. A center for traditional health care "Vanantharam" was built in 2003 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 not to compete with but rather to offer alternative options for health care in the community. We also felt the need to underscore 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).

Vanantharam now a registered trust, legitimizes practice of herbal based medicine to complement prevailing mainstream health care systems in partnership with LAYA

Promoting Herbal Based Health Care at local level

Today herbal based health care is promoted through trained herbal based health care practitioners who treat patients in and around their villages on basic health care problems. Community Health Centers are located in the village where they serve as nodal health centers run by Community Health Practitioners (CHPs) for villages nearby. Located in a small hut/stall, the Community Health Practitioners offer medical advice and treatments through herbal medicine. In addition Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) with special expertise, who are members of the THP Federation operate in a similar manner as the Community Health Centers. Besides regular health camps are organized at the weekly markets (shandies), where there is a gathering of the local community. Special Health Camps are also facilitated during the epidemic season in collaboration with the AYUSH Department. The community can also approach Vanantharam for various health care services.

Promoting standardisation of herbal based medicines

Standardisation of herbal medicine is promoted for basic illnesses which includes . standardisation of ingredients, purification processes of herbal medicine, hygienic preparation, dosage and storage of herbal medicine. The purpose is to ensure quality of medicines that are utilised.

Facilitating ‘Herbal Gardens’

We have maintained and upgraded 2 Mother Herbal Gardens in Gummaripalem and in Vanantharam (Addateegala). The Gummaripalem Herbal Garden is equipped with 185 varieties of medicinal plants and the Vanantharam (Addateegala) Herbal Garden is equipped with 250 varieties of medicinal plants. These herbal gardens produce seed material and are used for training and demonstration. 60 local herbal gardens are also promoted across four districts in villages where community health practitioners operate in order to support herbal practice.

Developing medicinal plant nurseries

A medicinal plants nursery has been established with 80 varieties of medicinal plants. The seedlings of these plants have been distributed to Community Health Practitionersand Traditional Health Practitioners who plant them in their herbal gardens. Other interested institutions such as Colleges and NGOs access plants from the nurseries on a cost basis.

Training young adivasi men and women in herbal medicine preparation for local practice

LAYA organizes and conducts a one-year course on “Community Ayurvedic (Herbal) Practitioners”. 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 course comprises 6 modules of in-house training and an internship of the trainees with Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs). The course focuses on life skills and work skills. In life skills, sessions include self-awareness, self-esteem, self-confidence, concepts, process and practice of effective communication. In work skills, the context and the roles of Community Ayurvedic Practitioners, basic knowledge on Ayurveda and human anatomy, practical training on medicine preparation and preservation skills are addressed. Besides exposure visits are organized to Government Ayurvedic Hospital and College for interaction with Ayurvedic students and professors.

Refresher training programmes for Community Health Practitioners (CHPs)

Skill upgradation training is conducted post training with community health practitioners in order to sustain and upgrade their knowledge and skills on subjects involving identification of medicinal plants, collection methods of herbs, diagnosis of diseases and preparation of medicines.

Up-grading skills of community 'Traditional Health Practitioners'

To expand the outreach of traditional health practices LAYA has initiated training programs with THPs building on their existing knowledge to upgrade their 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. Peer group exposure visits are organized for THPs 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. The unit has facilitated the registration of 4 District wise Traditional Health Practitioners’ Networks outreaching 350 THPs. The network has enabled sharing of experience among THPs, promoting standardisation of skills and improved quality of service. The network provides identity cards as well as Panchayat resolution certificates as testimonials to network members.

Responding to specific health care needs of adivasi women

The Herbal Based Health Care center also caters 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, nutri-gardens have been promoted and workshops are organized on women's health related issues.

Conducting herbal exhibitions for widespread awareness

‘Herbal Melas’ are conducted to exhibit the varieties of live medicinal plants, tubers, barks and seeds at various locations. A number of visitors attend every year, such as government officers, political leaders, ayurvedic, allopathic doctors and traditional health practitioners.

Managing a licensed pharmacy for marketing of medicines

'Vanantharam Pharmacy' was registered in December 2012. Currently, Ayurvedic and Herbal medicines are prepared by the pharmacy to treat common diseases. The medicines prepared currently include: Triphala, Samasakkera churnam, Karpooradhi tailam, Vidangadhi churnam, Aswagandha churnam, Avipathikara churnam,Vishatindika tailam and, Brungamalika tailam. In addition, 17 single herb powders are also manufactured as per demand. The medicines are supplied to the Community Health Centers and are made available at Regular and Special Health Camps.

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