During one of our first meetings with waste pickers and the Ambedkar Association, a political association to which approximately 200 waste pickers working in Perungudi dump site belong, their lack of access to health services was identified as a major concern. To address this, the Association’s president requested us to arrange a health camp at Perungudi. This was not something Transparent Chennai had done before, and it was only by accident that we learnt the procedure for getting the Corporation of Chennai’s permission to conduct a health camp.
We wrote to the Solid Waste Management (SWM) department at the Corporation requesting for permission to conduct the health camp at the Conservancy Inspector’s office at the dumpsite. The SWM department forwarded our request to the Deputy Commissioner (Health) from where it went on to the Commissioner, who happily for us, approved the request. The file then found its way to the office of the City Health Officer, which, if I may say so myself, is where the request ought to have been submitted to start with. The CHO gave us a letter of thanks with a two-page form with numerous undertakings that was to be filled in and signed. Once this was submitted we got official permission to conduct the health camp and advice to get in touch with the Zonal Health Officer for further assistance.
We had four very dedicated interns – Mullai, Indumathi, Santhoshi and Padma – from the Social Work Department of S.D.N.B. Vaishnav College for Women, who had some experience in organising health camps and knew which hospitals to get in touch with. They took up the responsibility of organising an eye camp and a general health camp. They approached Dr. Agarwal Eye Hospital, Cathedral Road and the Hindu Mission Hospital, Tambaram to volunteer the services of their doctors and staff for the health camp, both of which readily agreed. The interns also took it upon themselves to look for sponsors for bit notices, medicines, and refreshments for the camp. With the permission letter in hand, the hospital staff was given a tour of the CI’s office to plan the camp. On Day 1 Dr. Agarwal Eye Hospital sent two optometrists, one ophthalmologist, one counsellor and one coordinator and on Day 2 five doctors came from the Hindu Mission Hospital.
Unexpectedly, the hardest part of this entire exercise turned out to be bringing waste pickers from the dumpsite to the health camp for a free check up. Close to 70 waste pickers and Corporation staff came to the Camp on the first day, which was less than we had expected. The problem we had not foreseen on the first day was that the waste pickers were intent on collecting recyclables that would earn them their living for the day rather than get a medical check at the health camp. However, Transparent Chennai researchers and interns and the NSS volunteers from S.D.N.B. Vaishnav College for Women who came to help were undeterred and made forays into the dumpsite to explain to the waste pickers about the importance of the health camp. As a result 207 waste pickers came to the health camp on the second day. Not surprisingly, the most common ailments included eye and skin infections.
Written by Avni Rastogi, researcher, Transparent Chennai