India: Weekly Health Camps For Media Families Roll On In Assam – OpEd


Basundhara (not her real name) often comes to the press club to meet friends and kill extra time. Though she is working at the news desk of an Assamese newspaper, she had never worked as a mainstream reporter. But by coming to press club she finds friends from both the print and television media and take the opportunity to hang out happily.

In one such appearance at the press club premises, I asked her to check her thyroid level in our weekly evening out-patient-department (OPD) clinic that has been organized regularly organized since August 2016. Reluctantly Basundhara gave blood samples to the attending health workers. She also got her blood pressure and sugar checked in the camp.

Next day, the laboratory reports arrived at the press club office and Basundhara took hers away. In the evening hours, when I was busy tracking a news story, she called me and before saying anything she started sobbing. It was astonishing as this normally jolly girl felt so nervous while speaking to me.

‘What happened’, she replied to my query with revelation that she was diagnosed with high thyroid (stimulating hormone) level and hence she was losing energy, joyfulness and gaining unusual weight. I tried to console her that it was not a big deal. Every fourth Indian today suffers from thyroid related problems, but that it can be treated with proper medical intervention.

Sailesh (name changed) normally comes to the press club only when there is a meeting of media persons as he lives at the outskirt of Guwahati. Once he arrives, Sailesh continues his natural lecturing with me on numerous issues irrespective of my interest.

Not young in age now, Sailesh he is a confirmed bachelor and claims that he will remain so, as his big family would look after him. In one of our Saturday media clinics Sailesh casually checked his blood pressure. The nurse widened her eyes looking at the meter. Sailesh was diagnosed with hypertension (almost 180 by 110 mmHg). The attending doctor wanted to check his pressure and did it personally.

The outcome remained the same.

The doctor asked if Sailesh had checked his pressure earlier. The answer was a big no. He had never checked it and justified his point that ‘listening to doctors was an unnecessary exercise as he had always enjoyed good health condition’. He even denied accepting his blood pressure readings.

The doctor, a little younger to Sailesh, called me and requested that I help to convince him that it was very dangerous to live with such high blood pressure as it could cause great harm to him. I asked Sailesh, who is my contemporary in the professional journalism, to listen to the doctor and follow the guidelines. For the sake of my advice, he listened to the doctor, but refused to take mediciation.

After almost a week, Sailesh came to the press club. He looked depressed with untidy dresses. I could see a small bandage on his head. ‘What happened’, I asked, and Sailesh narrated a long story to my question. The substance of it all was that he fell down at his home two days back and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where the attending doctors cautioned him about his hypertension.

Sailesh survived this time with no internal injuries, which is often reported when an individual suddenly tumbles because of high blood pressure. He admitted his guilt for not taking the doctor’s advice seriously earlier and even showed me a strip of medicines, which he had started using regularly.

One can find a number of cases if they go through the records of the Guwahati Press Club, which has launched this unique healthcare awareness programs last year. One of the active press clubs of northeast India, the organization has over 300 regular members, who are mostly professional journalists working for regional, national and international media outlets.

Besides a few regular programs like ‘Meet the Press’, ‘Guest of the Month’, ‘Media Fellowship’, ‘Health Camp’ etc, the 40-year-old organization started a new initiative titled ‘Evening with a Doctor’ in August 2016 with an aim to spread health awareness to its members along with their close relatives. By now over 75 health clinics have been organized at the press club premises benefiting hundreds of media families.

Under this program, a practicing physician is welcome to the press club premises every Saturday evening, where the attending doctor interacts and also offered free health related consultations to the member-journalists with their families. Often screenings of weight, hypertension, blood sugar, bone density, pulmonary function, thyroid levels, etc. are organized and arranged for follow-up consultations.

Started with the initial support from Dr Jayanta Bardoloi, managing director of Assam’s well-known Dispur Hospital in raising a doctor’s chamber at the club premises, the series of health camps have already emerged as a healthy hangout for the media. The endeavor has also helped diagnosing many journalists and their dependents with alarming high blood pressure, sugar and thyroid disorders. They were accordingly advised by the physicians for follow up actions.

To this date, most of the hospitals based in Guwahati, which has slowly turned into a competent healthcare hub in eastern India, have supported the endeavour by sending their practicing physicians in rotation basis for the media clinics. Professional doctors from GNRC Hospitals, Down Town Hospital, Dispur Hospital, Nemcare Hospital, Hayat Hospital, Ayursundra Hospital, Sun Valley Hospital, Barthakur Clinic, Wintrobe Hospital, Narayana Hospital, Rahman Hospital, Excelcare Hospital, Sight First Eye-Clinic, etc. have already attended the camps.

Even specialist doctors from various distinguished healthcare institutions, based in other parts of the country, like Apollo Hospital (Chennai), SIMS Chennai Hospital, Manipal Hospital (Bangalore), Fortis Hospital (Bangalore), Medanta the Medicity Hospital (Gurgaon), etc. have graced the camps. They were simultaneously encouraged by the post-event coverage in both the mainstream and alternate media outlets.

It may be noted that around 90% of media persons in the alienated region have no medical insurance coverage. Most of the journalists, engaged with regional newspapers and news channels, earn compromised salaries and nominal benefits. Hence they can hardly afford healthcare expenditures and often ended up depending on financial support from the government and donations from well wishers when the medical emergencies strike their families.

Even though the evening camps at our press club are being organized for the benefit of the legitimate members with their relatives, any journalist of the region (also the country) with their dependents are welcome to take the advantage of the clinics.

Moreover, the media organizations including the press clubs of the region are being encouraged to take similar initiatives for enhancing the health status their colleagues and also improving the healthcare related journalism in this part of the populous country.

Finally, meet John (a rural journalist from Jayantia hills of Meghalaya), who recently came to meet me at our press club. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was talking to the invited doctor just before starting the weekly OPD clinic.

Quite naturally I asked John to participate in the camp. Initially he declined, saying, ‘I am fine; What is the problem with me; Are you hatching any conspiracy!’

But later he agreed and was subsequently diagnosed with high sugar level (almost 400 mg/dL) at the random test. The doctor had a long conversation with John, who was in his fifties and asked him to follow a few guidelines. Once the session was over, a nervous John came out of the chamber and made an angry comment to me, “Dost (dear friend), you have turned me a sick man today. But anyhow, God bless you”.

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Assam, Northeast India) based journalist

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