For the 9000 residents of remote village in Idukki, a single doctor PHC is not enough

The difficult terrain and scarcity of public transport makes it tough for residents to get medical help, especially in emergency situations.
A kid in a tribal village being administrated injection on a huge rock
A kid in a tribal village being administrated injection on a huge rock
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Even as the lack of medical facilities and issues related to malnutrition in Attappadi in Kerala’s Palakkad district grabbed headlines recently, Mankulam, a village in the state’s Idukki district, is also facing a similar situation. Mankulam has a population of about 9,300, 40% of which consists of tribal communities, spread across 13 settlements, most of them in remote forest areas. The single physician Primary Health Centre (PHC) is the only facility providing basic medical treatment in the region. Because of the remoteness of the village and settlements located in interior forest areas, the local residents rely on the PHC for medical help or depend on traditional healers.

Dr Tijo P Jose, former medical officer at the Mankulam PHC, told TNM, “Mankulam is a village that borders deep forests. The difficult terrain and scarcity of public transport makes it a huge task to provide medical help, especially when emergency situations emerge. Those in the tribal settlements have to walk through the rough terrain to avail even basic medical help. To get specialised treatment, they have to go to Adimali or Munnar, a distance of more than 30 km, to reach the main road to transport patients to a hospital. In case of pregnant women or accident victims, the only way to take them to Mankulam town is to carry them. Due to the absence of proper medical help, the locals often seek the help of fake doctors.”

Elaborating on the difficulties faced by medical personnel, Dr Tijo said, “As the PHC is manned by a single medical officer, the regular OP ends by noon; after that the medical team heads to tribal settlements to provide vaccination and emergency medical help. Without proper roads or transport facilities, we had to walk five to six hours in rough terrain to reach the settlements.”

Dr Tijo reiterated the need for government intervention to ensure proper medical assistance to tribal populations living in remote regions. “Muthuvan, Mannan and Araya communities live in the 13 tribal settlements in Mankulam. The state government provides ration items which contain the staple food of these tribes. But the children have been diagnosed with diseases caused by malnutrition. The condition of pregnant women is also similar. Proper medical assistance and intervention is a must to ensure the health of the tribal community in Mankulam,” he said.

“When I served in Mankulam, I was the only doctor there for the last two years. Once I had to treat people even while taking rest after I injured my hand. Living in the quarters near the hospital, I used to make myself available to patients even at night. Most of the tribespeople did not get proper treatment for their illnesses. More doctors should be appointed in the village and the PHC needs to be upgraded,” he added.

Mathew Joseph, a resident of Mankulam, said that due to the remoteness of the area doctors and other paramedical staff are not willing to work there. “The lone doctor in the PHC cannot provide all medical help. If the doctor is on leave, there is no way to get medical treatment in Mankulam,” he said.

Meanwhile, work is on to upgrade the PHC in the village into a new Family Health Centre (FHC).

Mankulam block panchayat member and Devikulam block panchayat health and education standing committee chairman Praveen Jose said, “The panchayat has already completed the construction works of the new FHC at Mankulam. The tender for the electrical work for the new building is also done. The FHC will start functioning after completion of the electrical work.”

“The August 2018 flood caused large-scale damage in Mankulam and an amount of Rs 48 lakh from outside MP’s fund was allocated to upgrade the present PHC as a family health centre,” he added.

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