Society for Community Health Awareness Research and Action

SOCHARA Silver Jubilee - Sourthern Region

This year marks the silver jubilee (1991 to 2016) of our evolution as a registered society. SOCHARA started as Community Health Cell (CHC) in 1984 and was then was registered as a society on 16th April, 1991. At this point we would like to celebrate the Collective Health for ALL journey’s and community health journey’s that so many have participated in. We would like to reflect on some of the challenges we face and share experiences and thoughts in this regard to enlighten the future. We organised a southern and northern regional events in view of SOCHARA’s silver jubilee year. This article carries the report of the southern regional event held on 15th and 16th April 2016 at Pope Paul VI Auditorium, St Johns National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru with more than 150 participants.  

The first panel discussion was on the floods that occurred in Tamil Nadu during Nov-Dec 2015. Prof. Shanmuga Velayutham chaired this panel, and other panellists shared about the causes, impacts, and relief measures undertaken in Chennai and Cuddalore. Mr Arul Selvam from Cuddalore discussed that this was a new experience for him, which he has not experienced in the last 50 years of his life. Poor management of land, surface water bodies, and canals rather than the heavy rains led to the floods and consequently deaths and damage to property (which mainly affected poor and uninsured). In addition, disaster management was ignored – which is an issue since several industries located in the area. Focus of relief was for those living along larger roads such as along state and national highways. Ms. Kausalya, discussed the plight of people living with HIV due to the floods, who were not able to access their medicines or replenish their stocks. More importantly, they also did not receive the same level of support and relief from neighbours. Ms. Sujatha Modi discussed that women suffered disproportionately due to the floods. She added that in most areas, neighbours and able-bodied persons helped each other tremendously going beyond societal barriers. Some companies also came forward to help, but it was done for selected groups only. Bottled water and reverse osmosis units were supplied. Persons from Irula community and others from lower socio-economic groups were severely affected, and some were forced to go to work even during the rains to get daily wages. It was opined that flood prevention and relief would be campaign themes for the upcoming elections in the state.


The second panel discussion was on the theme of “Rural Challenges” and focused on issues faced by the agricultural community and on sanitation. Mr Jayakumar was the chair, and he brought to light various issues being faced by the farming community, and specifically focused on pesticides as a major challenge, stating that “our blood is the most polluted water in the world” because of multiple chemical exposures. Ms Usha Soolapani discussed about the importance of traditional seeds, and she used rice as her case study. She stated that there are hundreds of thousands of varieties, each with specific properties and that while efforts are being made to save and propagate them with several individuals coming forward there is a need for more support from health sector (keeping in mind issues such as “cancer train”, and non-communicable diseases). She concluded that if seeds are not in the control of farmers, they will always be in distress. Mr. Sridhar Radhakrishnan spoke about agrarian crisis and distress, discussing the challenges of modern technology and chemical driven agricultural approaches, which focuses only on “output” without looking at agriculture as an ecosystem. Some solutions were suggested such as emphasis on agro-ecological farming, farmers’ rights and guaranteed income, and food safety. Dr. Marcella D’Souza discussed about the engagement taking place with communities in drought prone areas to help them adapt to climate change. The importance of assessing local governmental schemes, vulnerability assessment, and encouragement of sustainable practices was emphasised. Livelihoods challenges are huge in rain-dependent agricultural areas. Mr. Prahlad higlighted the critical challenges in the context of sanitation – such a gender, mental health, and corruption. Case studies of women facing harassment, construction of low cost model of toilets and cultural challenges were discussed.

Ms. Stefi Barna and Ms. Manjulika Vaz conducted the first parallel workshop on curriculum setting for education on environmental determinants of health. Deliberative discussions were held keeping audience interests in mind. Suggestions on encouraging eco-friendly campuses were also shared. The second workshop was on food systems and agriculture conducted by Mr. Dwijendra Nath, Mr. Sridhar and Ms. Usha saw discussions on linkages between nutrition, food and agriculture. Pathways of food systems were also explored through group activities, and an exercise on sustainable nutrition was also conducted. The third workshop was on sustainable sanitation in community and healthcare Mr. Prahlad, Ms. Uma, Mr. Alfred and Dr. Tejaswi. Aspects related to community engagement, challenges in urban sanitation, importance of sanitation in healthcare services were discussed. The fourth workshop on climate, society and health was conducted by Ms. Lalitha Vadrevu and Mr. Shibaji Bose. Using “vulnerability” lens they discussed in the context of Sundarbans in West Bengal  research, action, and challenges. Climatic vagaries, outmigration of men, lack of access to healthcare, and poverty add to the existing burdens. They also discussed about the findings from photographs taken by local women to depict challenges along with approaches of translating research to policy.

The day concluded with a lively and informative kalajatha performance by a team from Karnataka Jnana Vijnana Samithi, Kolar who demonstrated the importance of addressing issues such as waste to reduce communicable diseases. The performance included social songs on promoting health, education and women issues.

Day Two (16th April 2016): Silver Jubilee Celebration and Communitisation in Health

The Silver Jubilee celebration began with a special song sung by fellows of the 12th batch of the Community Health Learning Programme (CHLP) composed Mr. Samar Khan of same batch. Dr. Mohan Isaac delivered the presidential address through a pre-recorded video message which was played along with the congratulatory video message from the vice president of the SOCHARA, Dr. P Chandra. Following this the founding members, pioneering team, society members, associates, friends, extended team members and present team members were welcome.

Present team members shared the SOCHARA’s community health and public health journey of the past 25 years through a ‘photo journey’ presentation as part of which Dr. Thelma and Ravi Narayan were felicitated. Work being done by the Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Madhya Pradesh clusters was shared through the presentation. Homage was paid to the society members, associates, and fellows who passed away by remembering their association.

The next session saw sharing of thoughts starting with senior society members who shared about their association with CHC-SOCHARA followed by other participants. Subsequent to the sharing session, the second video documentation of CHLP was released Ms. Anusha, present team member, with the blessings of Ms. Valli Seshan and then screened. The administration and ministerial staff from the past and present were acknowledged.

Dr. Regi of the Tribal Heath Initiative distributed fellowship certificates to the fellows of 12th batch of CHLP. Dr. Ravi Narayan thanked various fellow travellers in the community health journey of SOCHARA and concluded the morning session.

The forenoon session started with a panel discussion on communitisation of health system. A five-member panel from diverse background shared their experiences and views on the topic. Later they responded to the questions from the audience.This was followed by four parallel workshop on the following themes; Governance and indicators and performance, Role of Panchayti Raj Institutions (PRI), Does communitisation address marginalisation, Role of ICT in community action. These workshops were facilitated by eminent resource persons on the respective subject. Key issues discussed during the parallel workshop and the action points were presented in the plenary by the rapporteurs. The programme concluded with the vote of thanks by the SOCHARA team members.