Five years ago, M. Revathy was a single mother abandoned by her husband, living in the small town of Tirunellikaval in Tamil Nadu. She is high school educated but was unable to find any employment except in a loom in her town. She was paid a pittance there and had the status of a bonded laborer. Today, she has her own loom at home and sells her saris at a good price to the wholesale market. She has a smile on her face as she says proudly that she sends her three sons to school and supports them and her father on her income.
Revathy was one of the women identified under the Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project, 75% funded ($274 million) by the World Bank a few years ago. This project called Pudhu Vaazhvu (meaning New Life) has given a livelihood, and hope for thousands of women, unemployed youth and the differently abled in the state and has also been recognized by the World Bank as one of the best such projects in the world.
Being from the state, I was always aware that Tamil Nadu has always been one of the top Indian states in several development indices but till recently, I had never had the opportunity to see any the development projects firsthand. The focus on healthcare, especially in the rural areas is particularly heartening: providing access to remote areas in the form of once a fortnight mobile medical clinics and free ambulance services – 436 of them at present - for emergencies.
The mobile medical vans treat patients for basic ailments like fever, gastric ulcers, skin infections, respiratory infections and so on. The doctor watches out for and treats conditions like sickle cell anemia and malnutrition, highly prevalent among tribal women. For instance, Dr. Rajarajan whom I met in Kottayur village – 30 kilometers from the nearest town – travels to 3 or 4 villages and sees over a hundred patients a day.
These doctors, along with trained auxiliary nurse midwifes also conduct regular antenatal checks on pregnant women and counsel them on the benefits of having their delivery in hospitals instead of at home as they are used to. And there have been specialized CEmONCs (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetrics and Neonatal Centers) set up, leading to a significant decrease in both maternal mortality ratio and infant mortality rates.
There is a lot more work being done in government hospitals, including computerization of all records and placement of trained tribal counselors in many of the large ones. Beneficiaries correctly identified, resources well spent and a long-term vision – what is not to like?