Bridging the healthcare divide: How technology is bringing a ray of hope in rural India

In the most remote areas of rural India, affordable and accessible healthcare continues to be a challenge for underserved populations even today. With proper hospitals often located several kilometres away, the significance of timely diagnosis cannot be overstated. This critical aspect came sharply into focus through the stories that recently emerged from MAHAN Trust – an NGO serving tribal communities in the Melghat region of Maharashtra and catering to their healthcare needs.

When 27-year old Geeta* from Dharni village found herself battling tuberculosis for a third time, her very life hung in the balance. She had discontinued her TB treatment twice before, as travelling to the nearest hospital for regular check-ups would have meant forgoing daily wages. Due to this, Geeta was already vulnerable to a multidrug-resistant form tuberculosis (MDR-TB) when the disease struck again. This time, it spread to the rest of her body, led to multiple organ failure and she eventually slipped into a coma.

Geeta hasn’t been the only one in such a predicament. With 70% of the region’s mortality rate attributed to treatable infections such as TB, Melghat has long been deprived of high-quality diagnostic facilities that accurately detect infections and enable PHC doctors to effectively prescribe timely treatment. Caregivers bear the responsibility of submitting test samples to the nearest pathology lab in Amravati – a journey that takes 4-5 hours – and the subsequent waiting period to secure reports frequently results in delayed or, tragically, no treatment at all, eventually leading to the loss of lives in critical cases.

Recognising this as a significant challenge, the MAHAN Trust team collaborated with Medprime Technologies in early 2023 through the ACT Implementers Network, which aims to bring private innovations to public healthcare. Medprime’s digital microscopy solution allows pathologists to remotely analyse test reports for patients living in low-resourced areas, eliminating the hassle of transporting or storing the sample slides. Soon, the MAHAN Trust team began using the telepathology devices at the local PHC’s to begin addressing the issue.

It was this advanced diagnostic capability that helped the doctors diagnose and treat Geeta’s condition without the need for her to travel to a hospital, which has ensured the woman’s survival against all odds.

In another instance, Nandini* found herself in MAHAN Trust’s ICU in a coma due to cerebral malaria. Medprime’s solution facilitated a conclusive and accurate diagnosis that helped doctors prescribe the correct treatment. Despite facing their own economic challenges, the local community rallied together to support Nandini, showcasing the strength of solidarity in times of crisis. With their help and the support of donors, the medical team ensured she received treatment free of cost and came out of coma. Her remarkable recovery, just in time for Diwali, became a symbol of hope for the entire community.

These stories of success are just a few of the many that MAHAN Trust has brought to the fore – telepathology has enabled the team to detect multiple cases of malaria, tuberculosis, and even suspected leukaemia in the region in a timely fashion – thus saving lives while reducing the cost burden on the patients themselves. They underscore the transformative potential of technology and innovation and we’re proud to see the transformative impact it is slowly starting to create!

*Names changed to protect patient privacy

Seeds of Hope: Farmers For Forests transforming lives and livelihoods in rural Maharashtra

In the quiet village of Yermagad, in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, a 73-year-old farmer named Najukrao Ranu Achala leads his life in a tiny hut on his 8-acre land with 7 goats, 11 cows, 38 hens, and 2 dogs. Finding solace in simplicity, he only owns a bicycle that helps him visit the nearest market to buy essential goods.

In 2023, Najukrao’s life took a transformative turn when Farmers For Forests, an organisation that partners with local communities to protect and increase India’s biodiverse forest cover, approached him. He expressed his interest in cultivating bamboo, mahua, toddy palm, and arjun trees on his land but also articulated the lack of financial resources as an obstacle. His wife had passed away and his children had relocated to a nearby town, which compounded the challenge as he had no motivation to single handedly take up farming again.

Recognizing the potential of Najukrao’s land as a significant source of environmental preservation, Farmers For Forests offered to incentivize him to plant trees, not only as a way to enable afforestation but also to aid his livelihood. This is the mechanism with which F4F operates – their innovative payment for ecosystem services (PES) model treats farmers as stewards of the environment and financially compensates them to provide ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge, nurturing biodiversity habitat, afforestation etc.

The F4F team provided Najukrao with saplings, organic fertilisers, and crucial labour support to initiate the plantation and, over the next four years, he will receive regular cash transfers to take care of the saplings. As the fourth year approaches, Najukrao will not only generate revenue from selling agroforestry produce but will also help F4F tap into the carbon credit markets – turning his efforts towards environmental stewardship into a sustainable operating model for the organisation.

Najukrao is only one example of the systemic environmental impact that F4F is creating. India’s agrarian communities remain one of the most vulnerable parts of the population bearing the disproportionate impact of climate change, despite having almost zero contribution to greenhouse emissions. Many of them are abandoning agriculture for other livelihoods due to climate change induced uncertain rainfall, land degradation and crop losses. Under these circumstances, Farmers For Forests offer local rural communities opportunities to both mitigate and adapt to climate change while significantly aiding green livelihoods.

Najukrao’s collaboration with Farmers For Forests is in its first year. “For all of my daily needs, I rely on the land. With this cash transfer, I will take care of the saplings planted, but I will also replace my old and broken transistor radio to buy a new one. It’s my regular connection to hear what is happening in the world!”

ACT Capital Foundation For Social Impact is a not-for-profit company incorporated and registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013. All donations made to ACT Capital Foundation are eligible for income tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act.

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