In Kolhapur's Shirol taluka, a power loom worker ensures those in need gain hassle-free access to public healthcare

Arun Manjare makes navigating the labyrinthine rural public healthcare system easier for many in Shirol taluka

Sanket Jain July 21, 2020 13:03:32 IST
In Kolhapur's Shirol taluka, a power loom worker ensures those in need gain hassle-free access to public healthcare

This story is part of a series on everyday heroes of rural Maharashtra.

Suraj Mane’s neighbours were in deep distress; Mane* — an agricultural labourer in his late 40s — had slashed his stomach with shards of glass. He was frustrated, Mane said, and wanted to “get rid of alcoholism”.

While Mane’s neighbours in Shirol taluka (in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district) were reassured when he was rushed to the government hospital in Sangli, they knew there would be roadblocks ahead: police inquiries, the cost of the treatment. “I wasn’t expecting to survive,” says Mane, looking back on the incident.

But Mane and his neighbours had help in the form of Arun Manjare, who had rushed the injured man to the hospital and completed the requisite formalities. Manjare, a 52-year-old power loom worker and electrician from Shirol’s Bubnal village, has over the past two decades helped countless individuals in the area avail their right to healthcare.

In rural Maharashtra, marginalised individuals find they have to jump through several hoops to get access to medical services in government hospitals: Shortage of medicines, unavailability of functional equipment in addition to prevailing red tapism makes timely diagnosis and treatment seem out of reach for many. Primary Health Centres (PHC) and rural hospitals have a large number of vacancies. These issues might explain why nearly 80 percent of the population in rural Maharashtra seeks treatment at private hospitals instead.

Manjare had witnessed the issues with the rural public healthcare system firsthand, when in the early 2000s, a distant relative’s property case took a violent turn. Manjare took his injured relative to CPR Hospital in Kolhapur city. There, doctors asked him to move the patient to a private hospital, citing complications in the case.

Even as he sought treatment for his relative at the private hospital, Manjare noticed that the authorities weren’t discharging a particular patient because the family had been unable to clear the dues. Neither was the patient showing signs of recovery. As he observed these events unfold over a fortnight, Manjare began to see several problems in the way the healthcare system interacted with individuals who required medical care. “If the government hospital hadn’t denied this patient treatment, the family wouldn’t have had to go through this at a private hospital,” Manjare felt. Over the next few years, he began helping others navigate the complex labyrinth of accessing care at government hospitals, while also unravelling the ills that made rural healthcare systems in his area a morass.

Manjare helped — by his own reckoning — at least 100 people undergo surgeries, and avail of treatment for tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, heart problems, kidney failure, among other conditions. Collectively, he has helped these individuals save several lakhs of rupees, covering the process from diagnosis to post-op care.

In Kolhapurs Shirol taluka a power loom worker ensures those in need gain hasslefree access to public healthcare

Arjun Manjare. All photos by Sanket Jain

Manjare himself doesn’t charge a rupee for this support. Even though the amount of time he spends at various hospitals sometimes means losing out on his everyday income (Manjare earns about Rs 200 a day; he supplements his power loom wages with his work as an electrician). When asked what he gets out of this service he offers others, he says, “Mental peace”.

***

One of Manjare’s major successes came in early 2017. Three cases of dog bites were reported in Shirol’s Kurundvad village. The doctors at the PHC said there were no medicines available to treat the victims. Manjare’s attempts to pressure them into procuring the medicines came to naught, so he took the three patients to Sangli’s Civil Hospital. The next day, he staged a non-violent protest in front of the PHC; Manjare says no patient has been denied medicines at the Centre since.

But availability of prescribed medication, medical equipment and surgical items continues to be hit-and-miss. Manjare requests the relevant authorities for aid in such situations. Sometimes, when help isn’t forthcoming, he warns that he will stage non-violent protests or file a Right to Information application. When diagnostic equipment isn’t available at a certain government hospital, he asks the authorities to direct him to the nearest public hospital that does have the facility. Hospitals in the region have taken cognisance of Manjare’s work and he is a frequent presence at the Civil Hospital in Miraj and Sangli, and at CPR Hospital in Kolhapur city.

A December 2019 Indiaspend report noted that “only about 10 percent of the poorest one-fifth of Indians in rural India had any form of private or government health insurance”. Against this backdrop, Manjare’s work gains even more importance. He travels door to door across several villages to raise awareness about government health schemes like the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana. Manjare is of the opinion that the government should deploy information officers in all hospitals and PHCs, who will make people aware of these schemes.

His “social service” doesn’t always meet with his family’s approval. His wife Rukmini initially wondered why he was spending so much of his time in helping others. Manjare told her, “I don’t do drugs, gutkamatka (gambling), and alcohol. My only addiction is social work. If you want, I can leave social work and pick one of the others.” “Now I like the work he’s doing,” Rukmini says. “I encourage him to help more people.”

*Name changed on request

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