Disease is rife in the slum camps. Respiratory conditions, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency disorders, and blood-borne diseases are widespread. Polio, leprosy, and tuberculosis are not yet eradicated. During the winter months, temperatures can drop below zero, and in the summer heavy monsoon rains and flooding exacerbate the situation. The basic shelter comprising make-shift tents of polythene draped over flimsy wooden supports is unable to withstand these extreme climatic conditions. Many children died in infancy and mothers frequently died in childbirth.
In the beginning, access to health care was limited due to fear, myths and a sense of powerlessness in many of the slum families. Hygiene and sanitation were very poor and needed to be addressed. The priority was to maintain life and reduce disease. Tong-Len began a small health project in 2006, run by a western volunteer. This provided general medical care, medicines, health awareness, wound dressing and access to hospital for the seriously ill. Today Tong-Len has its own health team with five full-time staff. They visit the slums regularly and hold general clinics, pre-natal and post-natal clinics as well as special clinics for the under-fives. In addition, there is a programme of immunisation run in conjunction with government doctors. 70 per cent babies are now born in hospital. Deaths have decreased and life expectancy has increased.
Current health work among the communities evicted from Charan Khad
The Tong-Len health team have been working hard to support the families evicted from their homes in Charan Khad in June 2016. Regular clinics are being held in all the places where the Charan community have relocated, mainly in the vicinity of Chetru close to Gaggal, Dharamsala’s airport (15 km from Charan Khad). In addition the health team have run a number of clinics in villages in Himachal Pradesh up to 70 km away from Dharamsala, including clinics in Nadaun and Chintpurni. Special clinics have been carried out for the under 5s in the slum communities and for the children in the Tong-Len hostels. The team has also been involved in a disability project, visiting disabled children and their families in the Kareri district, about 20 km north of Dharamsala. Tong-Len is able to carry out a range of medical tests in-house through its mobile health unit including:
liver and kidney function tests (LFT and KFT),
HIV tests, and
Hepatitis B tests
For further information about the work of the health team contact Wangmo at firstname.lastname@example.org