The queen of the hills, or “Darjeeling” as it is known, has always been a place of inspiration for me. Since the year 2006, I have been a frequent visitor to the hills. But the smile of the residents here in spite of all the hardships has always raised various questions in my mind.
We, the people of the plains, have always been attracted to the beauty of the hills but what about the condition of the people who live in rural areas, where they are plagued by various sorts of diseases every single day and have been growing up without proper healthcare and proper maintenance? In recent years, the town’s fragile economy has been threatened by a rising demand for environmental resources, stemming from the growing tourist traffic and poorly planned urbanisation. After seeing the costly leather jackets that the local people here wear and their sports shoes, you might think that they are not affected by poverty but the reality of stressful lives are hidden behind their smiles.
On February 25, with seven of the finest doctors and medical practitioners, we made our way to the Takdah region of the Darjeeling district to set up free health camps in the rural areas of Lamahatta Himul Office (February 26), Badamtum Range Office (February 27) and in Plungdung Community Hall (February 28). The doctors were Dr Anindita Chakraborty (MO surgeon from WBHS), Dr Tanmoy Ghorui (Oral and maxillofacial surgeon), Dr Mohidul Hasan (dental surgeon), Dr Bappaditya Kar (MBBS and medical practitioner), Dr Debolina Kar (MBBS and medical practitioner), Dr Priyanko Roy (eye specialist) and Dr Rakhi Mondal (eye specialist). We were also accompanied by Mr Tapan Banerjee, the camp coordinator. Our first camp was at the Lamahatta region of Takdah in the Darjeeling district.
Lamahatta is a word derived from people wearing Bukhus similar to the clothes worn by Buddhist monks (Lamas) and that’s how the place got its name. The inhabitants are mostly tribal Buddhist people like Drukpas, Sherpa, Tamang and Yalmoos who live in peaceful coexistence with a good number of Hindu families.
Nepali is the local language of the residents who reside in this place. The villagers derive their resources from the farm produce in this area. We were felicitated by Mr Wang Chuk Palzor, the person in charge of that area. We also had the help of Mr Suresh Pandey, Range Manager of the Takdah district.
Our second camp was held in the Badamtam range office amidst the beautiful tea gardens from where the first flush of the best quality of tea comes. Amidst the beautiful windy ranges, we were helped by the rangers of that area. Mrs Shweta Rai, from the Additional Division of Forest Officer of Darjeeling District and Dilip Kr. Biswas, the Range Officer of the Badamtum Range Office (Forest) were also present.
We had over 120 residents coming over for the health camp held there, out of which there were 73 females and 43 males. Most of the women had a problem with their eyes and dental issues. Out of 120 people, 38 people had eye problems, 17 had dental problems, 52 had medicinal problems and rest of the people had more than one problem.
In the second camp, out of 132 patients, 68 were female and 64 were male. There were 52 people with eye problems, 10 people with dental problems, 37 people with medical problems and 33 people with problems in each of the three departments.
In the third camp, there were 161 patients with 84 female and 77 male. The majority of people in this camp had problems with medicinal issues – that is 110 of them had eye-related problems and 16 of them had dental issues. There were 55 people having problems in three of the departments.
The medicine department had to deal with multiple issues – gynaecological issues, skin rash problems, orthopaedic issues and small minor issues like gastric problems. Most of the patients were suffering from lower back pain (LBP), osteoarthritis (OA), urticaria, phimosis, cough and cold, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhoeae, acute gastroenteritis, hypertension (HTN) and diabetes mellitus (DM).
Some of the patients who had problems with cataract issues and major eye problems were referred to Siliguri District Hospital for free treatment or for surgery. Most of the people had 70% refractive error and 5% cataract issue in their eyes. Apart from this, they had dry eyes, conjunctivitis, vitamin deficiency issues.
At the cost of ₹50 from every person who had power problems, spectacles were promised to be given to them through the hands of the local range officer who was in charge of the area. Apart from this, the most challenging part of all was building awareness for oral hygiene. Poverty, depression, stress and economic problems lead to various addictions and improper oral hygiene. Most of the patients had never ever used a toothbrush. In all the camps, 99% of the patients were with dental issues. Some precancerous lesions were also found in their mouth due to a high incidence of chewing of tobacco, smoking and drinking of alcohol. Many of them were with teeth sensitivity, bleeding gums, chronic dental pain, periodontal and periapical diseases. Along with Colgate, Dr Tanmoy Ghorui conducted the ‘Oral Hygiene Awareness Programme’ in each of the camps and Warren Pharmaceuticals Ltd helped to deliver the free samples of Colgate to conduct the camp successfully.