Back in 1992, a doctor-couple, Dr Regi George and Lalitha Regi, visited Sittilingi valley, a remote tribal village in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. During their visit the doctor duo learned that one out of five babies born here died before they even completed their first year and many mothers died during childbirth. The nearest hospital was 48 kilometres away and to find one with surgical facilities meant a journey of over 100 kilometres.
Disturbed by the lack of healthcare access and the state of people living in the Sittilingi valley, the doctor couple decided to backpack for a year and provide affordable healthcare to the one-lakh people of the valley. Dr Regi and Dr Lalitha established the Tribal Health Initiative in the valley and started out valley's first hospital-cum-patient unit from a small hut.
In 1996, the initiative started training local tribal girls as health workers, midwives and auxiliary nurses. The couple trained these girls to diagnose and treat common problems at the hospital and assist the couple in the operating theatre, conduct deliveries, care for patients and go out to the villages for antenatal and child health check-ups.
After a few more years, they expanded the small hut to a 35-bedded hospital with an operation theatre, ICU, neonatal care and a maternity ward. Today Tribal Health Initiative's dream of providing affordable basic health care services spans over 33 villages in the Sittilingi valley and the Kalrayan Hills. It is an approach that seeks to help the tribals help themselves.
The Tribal health initiative has improved not only the health of the tribals but also their financial status and community well-being. Under the initiative, the doctor couple has not only trained tribal women to deliver health to their community but also have helped revive tribal art, and formed a society of organic farmers, which helps empower the tribal community that they chose to serve.
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