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Tareekh pe tareekh: Cardiologist’s 15-year struggle to help his village get a health centre | Mumbai News

Dr Vijay Surase, an interventional cardiologist from Thane near Mumbai, faced a more formidable challenge in getting an approval for a primary health center in his native village, Debhegaon, than performing intricate heart surgeries. He started the quest in 2008 at the age of 37, when the nearest PHC was relocated, leaving villagers in a bind. Now, after 15 years of writing over 100 letters, approaching courts, and countless visits to government offices, Surase celebrated his 53rd birthday recently with a reason to rejoice: The village has finally received approval for its first PHC.

Accessing healthcare in Debhegaon is a challenge – the nearest PHC in Hatnoor is situated more than 20 km away and requires one to navigate hilly terrain. In Deogaon Rangari village, just 10 km away, there is a rural hospital, but medical staff there decline to provide basic healthcare services that fall under the purview of PHCs such as outpatient care, maternal and child health services, immunisation, family planning, and common illness treatment. Instead, they refer patients to the Hatnoor PHC.

“Even for post-mortems in case of an accident, sudden death, or poisoning, we are directed to Hatnoor PHC. During Covid, our village and some neighbouring villages were excluded from screening because doctors at the rural hospital were occupied with treatment, and since Hatnoor PHC was distant, no one extended their services to us,” said Suresh Madhavrao Bodkhe, the former sarpanch of Debhegaon.

In 2008, the zilla parishad moved their nearest PHC from Deogaon Rangari to Chapaner village under Hatnoor administration when it was decided to construct the rural hospital. “Government rules mandate that when a village receives a rural hospital, the existing PHC is moved to the nearest village. However, in our case, political influence led to the PHC being relocated to distant Chapaner village, leaving us in a helpless situation,” said Suresh.

The villagers, headed by Suresh, sat on a hunger strike, but in vain.

Festive offer

This is when Dr Surase, who was paying a visit to his village, was left astonished. As the first doctor from his village, he could clearly see the profound impact the PHC had on the well-being of residents.

“When someone develops a cough or cold, they typically visit a general physician at the local PHC. Only in severe cases do they turn to specialists at rural hospitals. However, the villagers are often redirected to Hatnoor PHC even when they initially seek care at the rural hospital, which is already understaffed. As a result, villagers have become reluctant to consult a doctor and often resort to alternative medicines, risking their lives,” said Dr Surase. Also, many approach private healthcare providers, often at a substantial cost.

“ASHA workers affiliated with neighbouring PHCs regularly perform check-ups for newborn babies and expectant or new mothers. However, in my village, there is no longer any follow-up or community work taking place following the relocation of the PHC. This scarcity has resulted in significant delays in identifying health complications,” he said.

As part of his effort to tackle the problem and meet government officials in Debhegaon, he made frequent 300-km journeys from Thane, where he recently relocated from Mumbai’s Asian Heart Institute to Jupiter Hospital. He also wrote several letters to stakeholders, but when nothing helped, he knocked on the doors of the Bombay High Court in Aurangabad in 2008. The writ petition wasn’t tabled for 10 years, until 2018, when the court instructed the zilla parishad to look into the matter and provide adequate health facilities to villagers.

“I continued my visits to government officials, ministers, and politicians. They all assured me of granting approval, but the implementation was slow. I believe I approached four Chief Ministers of Maharashtra to secure their approval,” he recalled.

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Finally, in 2023, Vikas Shankar Kharage, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, granted his approval. Subsequently, with the assistance of the Guardian Minister of Aurangabad, Sandipanrao Bhumre, Dr Surase managed to meet the current Chief Minister, Eknath Shinde, who provided special approval. In the first week of October, a government resolution was passed.

“Interestingly, just a day before the final budget approval for Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (comprising Maharashtra’s Aurangabad and Osmanabad cities), a specific budget allocation was made to fund the construction of the PHC in Debhegaon,” Dr Surase said.

His unwavering determination has not only impressed, but surprised many. Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Abhay Dhanorkar, the district health officer, emphasised how the recently sanctioned PHC will bring significant benefits to approximately 18 additional villages. “I am well aware of Dr Surase’s persistence. Debhegaon is centrally located within the region. The new PHC will serve the needs of approximately 35,000 villagers who currently have to travel 20-30 km to access basic healthcare services at the nearest PHCs,” he said.

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