New Delhi: With the motto of ‘Manava Sewa is Madhava Sewa’ (Service to humanity is Service to the lord), Dr Dhananjay Diwakar Sagdeo has been working for the tribal of Wayanad in Kerala for over four decades. Born and raised in Nagpur, Maharashtra, 66-year-old Dr Dhananjay Diwakar Sagdeo is a Hematologist, currently working as a Chief Medical Officer for Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission in Wayanad. After getting his MBBS degree in 1980, Dr Sagdeo started his service with a small clinic with a special focus on the needs of indigenous folks. Over the years, the clinic has grown into a 36-bedded hospital with free food and treatment for tribal. The hospital constitutes a laboratory, multispecialty clinics, ECG, ambulance, mobile dispensaries and a sub-center.
Talking to NDTV about healthcare in Wayanad, Dr Sagdeo said,
50 years ago, tribal were not included in the mainstream healthcare services and health facilities were not available for them. Tribal usually suffer from communicable diseases like Tuberculosis and Diarrhoea and non-communicable and lifestyle diseases as well. Major issues are malnutrition, deaddiction, alcoholism and drug abuse. Another major health concern is a genetic disease – Sickle Cell disease.
Bestowed with the Padma Shri award in 2021, Dr Sagdeo was the first to discover Sickle Cell Anaemia among the tribals of Wayanad. He was quick to alert the government about the suspicion and later, from 1997-2001, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi along with Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission conducted a pilot project to screen people and manage the Sickle Cell Anaemia.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. In someone who has SCD, the hemoglobin is abnormal, which causes the red blood cells to become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle”, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr Sagdeo said,
Sickle Cell disease is a genetic disease, transferred from generation to generation. We are conducting a Sickle Cell disease programme under which we are screening the tribal population and issuing identity cards to patients, carriers and non-affected persons. We are also offering treatment and pre-marriage counselling to people so that genes are not transferred and the disease can be contained.
Earlier this year on July 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched National Sickle Cell Anemia Eradication Mission 2047. Dr Sagdeo and his team are working in the same direction. On the season finale of the Banega Swasth India season 9, Dr Sagdeo talked about his work in detail and what more needs to be done to ensure health for all. He was joined by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and other Padma Awardees.
Sharing the challenges he faced initially, Dr Sagdeo said,
Tribal communities are rural communities. There is a gap between modern medicine and their standard of living. 40 years ago, when I went to Wayanad, I found out that these people were neither ready to take medicines, nor they were willing to visit the hospital. They didn’t believe a disease can be cured by medicines. They thought they have been cursed and would go to local healers or get some pooja done.
To win the confidence of the tribal population to be able to assist them, Dr Sagdeo initiated mobile medical clinics and Swasthya Mitras (Healthcare Friends). Mitras are healthcare workers and youth trained in first aid and health education. Today, Wayanad has 125 Swasthya Mitras from the community – looking after the community, counselling them and working as a bridge between the community and doctors.
Dr Sagdeo added,
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tribal community was not keen on taking the vaccine. Since we are closely working with them for decades, they came forward and took the vaccine shot only when the vaccination camp was organised in our hospital.
Talking about the rise of lifestyle diseases in rural areas of India, Dr Sagdeo said that the tribal population has been living a healthy lifestyle – having organic food and exercising – for decades now. But, we have encroached on their lifestyle as a result of which, the number of lifestyle diseases among the tribal community is increasing.
With Union Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya present on the same panel, Dr Sagdeo made an appeal to make Sickle Cell Disease a notifiable disease meaning, any new case of the disease should be reported to official health authorities. He said,
If we test for Sickle Cell Disease, then we can provide pre and post-marriage counseling to people to prevent the intergenerational spread of the disease.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toiletsare used and open defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.