This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nitya Sriram. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘I’ve Seen A Dead Child In The Same Hospital Bed As A Living Child As There’s No Space’

More from Nitya Sriram

“I have seen filthy toilets, no water, shabby buildings practically falling apart, cobwebs, lab equipment and drugs strewn about [in India’s primary health centres],” shares Dr. Vandana Prasad, national convener for the Public Health Resource Network (PHRN), a voluntary network of public health practitioners striving to promote ‘Health for All’.

Over two decades of experience as a paediatric clinician, social activist and social worker in the field of public health, have given Dr. Prasad a wealth of knowledge about various aspects of the Indian healthcare system. She has also been associated with several health initiatives such as Right to Food Campaign and the People’s Health Movement (Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan), and has served as Member (Child Health), National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in the Indian government.

Dr. Vandana Prasad

Youth Ki Awaaz recently caught up with Dr. Prasad at PHRN’s office in South Delhi for a conversation around her understanding of India’s public healthcare system and its shortcomings, and what needs to be done to turn the tide. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

Nitya Sriram (NS): What got you interested in working with public healthcare?

Dr. Vandana Prasad (VP): So, I became a doctor to work in villages – that was the primary intent. But life takes you elsewhere. I went abroad and worked there. Then I decided enough was enough, came back, joined Mobile Crèches and worked with the children of construction workers for many years.

In the first two years, I realised that just working as a doctor doesn’t help anything. You’ve got to understand root causes and try and improve those. Otherwise, I would see the same children come back with the same issues – diarrhoea, malnutrition, and such. So, I learned from the ground up. Since then it’s been about trying to understand things politically, socially, as well as from a clinical understanding. Public health, as a discipline, lends itself to that kind of analysis.

NS: You said you have tried to understand things politically, socially, as well as clinically. What does this entail?

VP: For me, an understanding of class has been primary. Poverty, gender, power variables – essentially all our understanding goes around that. It’s quite simple – any thinking person sees the massive inequality in this country; there’s no level playing field. Things you and I take for granted – health and nutrition- are not available to all. The rate of progress has been very, very slow – things have improved but not the way they should have – not dramatically.

NS: What has your work experience with India’s healthcare system been like, so far?

VP: This work has been very inspiring. We’ve seen so many stories of courageous women who want to do well by their children. Many stories of change, where just minimum input, a single conversation, a little suggestion or demonstration, has changed people’s lives so dramatically. Also, there’s a prevalent attitude that poor people are uncaring and lower in capability, that they’re ignorant, not bothered. I have never got that feeling. I have seen tribal women spending so much money carrying a dead child to the hospital 400 km away just to see if anything can be done. You see these kinds of stories on a daily basis, yet the prevalent discourse is that poor people are dumb, uncaring, filthy, dirty.

NS: What is the general state of India’s Public Healthcare Centres? Can you give us an insight?

VP: I have done public health work in tribal areas, which involved working with the system, looking at the system. It is very variable. Every now and then you come across a beautifully functional PHC (Public Healthcare Centre) – I can recall some in Maharashtra, in particular. But on the whole, they are shabby, poorly looked after, poorly resourced, human resource situation is dire and mostly don’t have their full complement of doctors and staff. There are supply size issues with drugs and lab equipment, filthy waste management, very dangerous kind of waste around the place – glass bottles, expired drugs – it’s a very pathetic situation.

I have seen instances where doctor and pharmacist sleep in the same room as the OPD. I’ve seen filthy toilets, no water, shabby buildings practically falling apart, cobwebs, lab equipment and drugs strewn about. Imagine, you’re there for delivery, but you have to go to the jungle to relieve yourself when you’re suffering from labour pain. You’re looking for some quality assurance in these areas. But the kind of infrastructure has been rather stark.

NS: Can you recall what the worst PHC you came across was like?

VP: It was beyond pathetic. I felt like taking a jhaadoo (broom) and cleaning it myself! It consisted of one elderly doctor and one compounder living in one room. The other room was a kitchen-cum-lab kind of thing, covered in dust and cobwebs. That was it. They had about 50 people a day come to them every day, despite the condition, because it was a poorly served area in general. They had no bijli (electricity), no living quarters, no toilets, I don’t know what they did for paani (water).

For representation only. Source: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

NS: Any sights that have stayed with you long after?

VP: For one and half years, I worked with Kalavati Saran [Children’s Specialty Hospital]. I have seen a dead child and a living child in the same bed because there’s no place to take that dead child. They are just there, and the mother of the living child is sleeping under the bed.

On another bed, there’s a critically ill child and the family is taking turns on the ambu bags to make sure the child just lives. What else can you do? There are no ventilators. It’s a choice between doing that or letting the child die. The minute they fall asleep, their child dies. Awful.

NS: If there were five things you could change to improve India’s healthcare system, what would they be?

VP: We have to start with better investments, at least 5-6% of the GDP in the health sector (as opposed to the current 1%). I would really regulate the private healthcare sector and cut them down to size. I would make the facilities free at the interface, they should be funded from tax-based financing because there should be no scramble for money when you’re sick and dying. I would make the decentralised system we have today much more functional – the onus shouldn’t just be on hospitals like AIIMS and Safdarjung to provide accessible healthcare.

And yes, give better quality human resources. But what we need more than anything is a change in mindset. It is not an innovative or novel concept – Cuba has done it, Venezuela has done it, Brazil has done it. And for all of this we need a leadership, it requires an environment that is different from the current exploitative system that we belong to.

Did you know: Just by being washed in clean water and being cared for in a clean environment by caregivers who wash their hands, one in five babies who die within their first month, can be saved from untimely deaths. Yet, most of India’s public healthcare centres do not have access to clean water, adequate sanitation and proper hygiene practices (WASH). Let’s advocate for these basics in public healthcare centres across the nation by understanding the issue and asking our politicos to do more around it.

You must be to comment.

More from Nitya Sriram

Similar Posts

By Sourodipto Sanyal

By WaterAidIndia

By Rajkanya Mahapatra

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below