Caring for the vulnerable: Smile on Wheels, Kolkata

Smile on Wheels, Kolkata in action

Covid-19 has created an unprecedented challenge for the society and the health system. I have been associated with the Smile on Wheels project in Kolkata for the last five years, but particularly during the pandemic I feel the mobile clinic has been very essential. Covid-19 has affected the health seeking behaviour of the community in many ways. On one hand, people are slowly becoming conscious about wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing. This is one key reason that people are reluctant to visit public health facilities which often remain crowded and also cater to Covid-19 cases.

On the other hand, many private clinics have closed down or shifted to online consultation, making it difficult for people especially the poor and vulnerable families living in slums or rural areas to seek professional health consultation. This gap is filled by local pharmacists and unregistered medical practitioners who provide medicines without proper diagnosis which can be detrimental in the long run.

In this scenario, the Smile on Wheels mobile health clinic provides access to professional medical practitioners at their doorstep – giving them much needed relief, and also more importantly, the belief that they are not alone. Take the case of Jashoda Kalsar. Joshoda claims to be 90 years old. She lives in a tiny shanty in Dhoparmath, Ultadanga. She has no one to take care of her; she lives on her own. She primarily survives on begging in the streets and nearby railway stations. Sometimes, her neighbours provide her some food. In the present situation arising due to Covid-19 pandemic she has nowhere to earn.

Joshoda is diagnosed with various ailments like hypertension, back-pain and osteoarthritis. She is too frail to travel to a government hospital to seek advice and there is no one to accompany her. Moreover she doesn’t have the confidence to deal with the processes in a government hospital.

Jashoda at Smile on Wheels, Kolkata

Joshoda can neither afford a private consultation nor buy the medicines required for the above mentioned ailments. “I am totally dependent on the Smile on Wheels clinic”, she shares “I have no other alternative for my health care needs, and the best part is that for the last 3 years I am treated with respect and care”.

In every location where we visit, there are a few cases like Joshoda Kalsar – they are mostly aged, vulnerable and socially and economically deprived; the service provided by the Smile on Wheel clinic is critical for them.

Smile on Wheels, Kolkata

In the last five years, we have benefitted over 85,000 children and families who were in dire need of our support. At present, the Smile on Wheels project covers over 20 slums and semi urban villages. I am glad to be a part of this project and hope that we can continue to serve the vulnerable population in the pandemic, and beyond it.

To know more about Smile Foundation’s healthcare support for the poor and underserved visit https://www.smilefoundationindia.org/health-cannot-wait/

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Author

Tathagata Chatterjee

Tathagata Chatterjee is a project coordinator with Smile on Wheels, Kolkata

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