(For the quarter July- September 2020)
As floods ravage Assam once again and fear of the pandemic looms large, this is how the Boat Clinics work. Every year, every monsoon-facing an angry river, the flood fury, wading through knee-high water, walking for miles, and reaching out to the flood vulnerable and needy living in the far-flung Brahmaputra river islands.
C-NES’ 15 Boat Clinic teams from Tinsukia in upper Assam to Dhubri, bordering Bangladesh. The pandemic added a different and extremely challenging condition this year In each campsite, social distancing was maintained as best possible. Medicines were distributed onboard.
Besides health and flood relief camps, awareness sessions on flood and post flood diseases and prevention was also conducted in most villages. A photo story during monsoon from July and September 2020.
Media on the Boat Clinics
Held as a flagship innovative programme by the Government of Assam, the Central Government and UNICEF, the boat clinics along with other C-NES initiatives have been written about extensively in local, regional, national, and international media.
The Quint , Jul 30, 2020
For the 30-lakh people living on the 2500 river islands of Brahmaputra, the boat clinics are the only healthcare option. 15 boat clinics operate across 13 districts of Assam, providing free treatment, medicines, vaccines and diagnostic facility to the people living on the river islands.
The Clarion Indi , August 18, 2020:
Assam’s Boat Clinics are the only Hope for Million to Fight Coronavirus Pandemic
South Asia Monitor, Sep 10, 2020
Vivekanada International Foundation, November 11 , 2020
The Boat Clinics of the Brahmaputra: Life, Hope, Healing
Boat Clinics have provided opportunities to students doing research on delivery of primary healthcare and education to the islands on the Brahmaputra. Research studies have been conducted by students from across the globe for the last eight years. While the interns have benefited from the unique work the organization does in the Brahmaputra valley be it in the spheres of health, education, conflicts and communications (through the Brahmaputra Community Radio Station) among others, the organization has also gained from their internship. Their work with the organization and the reports shared with C-NES has given the organization constructive feedback focusing as they do on both the positive impacts of the Boat Clinics and the organizations work as also the gaps which need filling up, valuable suggestions for improving service delivery with a fresh perspective
Abhinav Sankar Goswami, from TISS Guwahati’s, Centre for Undergraduate Studies Interned with C-NES in December 2019. His internship was to understand the socio-economic scenario and complexity on the ground as a participant though the Boat Clinic as the programme is “highly successful and extremely attractive to engage young people to work in the sector of both public health and community service which would help him in expanding his horizon to further continue my professional community service in future.
The report below was covered also by the Vivekanada International Foundation – https://www.vifindia.org/article/2020/november/11/the-boat-clinics-of-the-brahmaputra-life-hope-healing
I woke up to a beautiful breeze right through the windows of the S.B. Nahor (boat clinic for Jorhat district) on the morning of the first weekend of December last year. What could I ask more? The previous night, I slept with the excitement of waking up at “Luitor Bukut” meaning, at the heart of Luit. One can imagine my extent of excitement and enthusiasm if enquired to the closest of my friends. Anyway, long story short, I was on S.B. Nahor with the dedicated team of medical practitioners, healthcare professionals, and community workers led by the District Project Officer (DPO) of the Boat Clinic Initiative of Jorhat as an intern at the Centre for Northeast Studies and Policy Research (C-NES). I went there to understand the grassroots reality of healthcare and the family welfare of the people in the ‘saporis’ or riverine islands of Majuli and to carry out independent research on assessing livelihood opportunities.
The existence of the “Boat Clinic Initiative” dates back to June 2004-05 when C-NES launched the initiative to make better healthcare efficiency for the diverse communities in the riverine islands of Brahmaputra valley with a focus on routine immunization of children, pregnant mothers, and new mothers. The concept has been widely applauded and won a World Bank award for innovation for bridging rural gaps. Over the years, the initiative has expanded its operation to thirteen districts from Dibrugarh being the first district. The initiative got a new dimension when it came into collaboration with the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) ushering one of a kind model of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the health sector. Apart from NRHM, financial aid and other support have also come from ONGC Limited, OIL, Indian Oil Corporation (Assam Division), Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL), State Bank of India, Jalan Industries, and district administrations of various districts.
My experience with the initiative was for twenty days with ten days in the camp, which means; moving in the boat from saporis to saporis of Majuli. The purpose of the boat clinic is intensely specific to the healthcare needs of the ‘char-saporis’ situated across the long course of Brahmaputra in Assam. In the sense, ‘saporis’ of Majuli are dynamic in the geographical sense, they are not permanent. These ‘saporis’ or riverine islands get eroded by flood annually and change their positions. The government cannot construct permanent hospitals and therefore, the requirement of boat clinics is imperative in every district. It was a crucial exposure for me as a resident of the state and as a student of social sciences to acquire a ground-zero understanding of the public healthcare system in Assam. The principal focus areas of the program are along the lines of curative care, reproductive and child care, family planning services, and basic laboratory services. One of the most concerning phenomenon which I noticed was the absence of family planning and the prevalence of malnutrition among mothers and children. Personally, observed a significant portion of young mothers bearing three children below the age of five in many villages. These challenges are among the top priorities of the Boat Clinic Program to improve the health conditions of the people. Apart from the medical and administrative staff, ASHA workers and community workers are fundamental to the success of the initiative. It is noteworthy to appreciate the rapport building between the ASHA workers, community workers, and the target population which is substantial for the sustenance and success of healthcare awareness. In recent months, the boat clinics have also contributed essentially to the challenges inflicted by COVID 19 in the riverine islands across the valley.
Being a twenty-year-old living in Guwahati for all my life, my comprehension of rural Assam or Assam, in general, has been myopic. I happen to only visit the villages adjoining to the national highways in the Brahmaputra valley until then. I do not doubt saying that I learned about my land beyond urban discussions and academic readings. Hence, such an experience is deeply personal to me apart from expanding my horizon of knowledge professionally on the sectors of health and family welfare. Also, my romanticist expression of “Luitor Buku” comes from the privilege of staying for ten days as an escapist adventure from regular life. However, it takes tons of effort for the teams of the boat clinics to deliver service to the most vulnerable in the remotest of riverine islands.
Abhinav S. Goswami
Centre for Undergraduate Studies
Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus
Tetelia Road, Jalukbari, Guwahati-13