THE SAGA OF SITTILANGI
DR LALITHA AND DR REGI
Vanitha magazine Woman of the Year 2008 award for Lalitha
- Dr Lalitha and Dr Regi
Tribal Health Initiative is a registered charitable trust established in the small village of Sittilingi in DharmpuriDistrict, Tamil Nadu.Fifteen years ago, in Sittilingi, one out of five babies died before they became a year old and many mothers died in childbirth. The nearest hospital was 48 kilometres away and to find one with surgical facilities meant a journey of over 100 kilometres. The area is remote and badly served by public transport. Buses at that time would run four times a day but even getting to a bus can involve a walk across fields lasting several hours.
Sittilingi valley and the surrounding Kalvarayan and Sitteri Hills, are inhabited primarily by tribal peoples, “Malayalis” or “Hill People” who eke out a living through sustenance or “rain fed” agriculture. About fifty thousand people live here.
It was here that Regi and Lalitha , two young doctors, established Tribal Health Initiative in 1993. It started with a small Out Patients’ unit in a thatched hut. Three years later, mostly thanks to the support of friends and grant giving agencies, they had built a ten bedded hospital with an rudimentary operation theatre, labour room, neonatal care, emergency room and laboratory.
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Today, Tribal Health Initiative runs a full-fledged 24 bed primary care hospital and has extended its services to conduct education programmes and outreach clinics in the 21 villages situated in the area. The impact has been dramatic.
The proportion of pregnant mothers coming for antenantal check-ups has increased from 11 per cent to 90 per cent since the outreach clinics began. Newborn deaths have dropped by 50 per cent and the proportion of underweight five year olds has also dropped by 30 per cent over the same period. There has been no mothers dying in child birth for the last 4 years.
Following the impact evaluation done after 10 years, the team decided to have one to one discussions with the villagers of the 21 villages covered by THI. A significant outcome was our conclusion that our work, based on our vision of health, should encompass areas such as education, livlihoods and basic community needs, which we will be trying our best to achieve in the coming years.