Society for Community Health Awareness Research and Action

Health of slum dwellers most vulnerable to the ills of urbanization, reveals symposium

The inaugural symposium on ‘Health in Slums’ was conducted in Bangalore Baptist Hospital on April 30th in collaboration by Maastricht University, Zuyd University, Bangalore Baptist Hospital, SOCHARA and other NGO partners from Bengaluru to understand the various complexities involved in the health situation of one of the most marginalized sections of society – the slum dwellers in Bengaluru city.

The symposium was attended by researchers, academics, students, technology companies, NGOs and most importantly, slum community members themselves. SOCHARA played an important role in not only organizing the symposium, but also participated actively in the symposium with three SOCHARA team members presenting their work and organizing for voices from the community (a field activist from Vimochana, an urban-ASHA and a women’s union leader) and the government (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike health officials) to be heard.     

Following is an excerpt from the article written about the symposium by Dr. Rifa Khan for Bengaluru’s popular hyperlocal news magazine, Citizen Matters:

“International Symposium on Health in Slums 2016 was held in Smrithi Auditorium, Bangalore Baptist Hospital, Hebbal on April 30, 2016. This first-of-its-kind event provided a platform for health researchers, BBMP Medical Officers and NGOs involved in various aspect of health in slums.

The population for study involved migrant and non-migrant populations. This was an opportunity to connect the investigators with questions pertaining to the health and wellbeing of the slum dwellers to those willing to offer solutions in the form cost-effective options of fuel, energy, technology and healthcare.

A slum is perhaps a generic term that refers to the settlement options available for the urban poor. The resident populations include skilled and unskilled labour; the backbone of the trade and construction sector. While we may opt to neglect these settlements, slums have a high prevalence of infectious diseases and are also more vulnerable to chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

However, before delving into the requirements it was imperative to assess the available facilities. This symposium brought to the forefront the work of the BBMP Health Department which serves a population of 1 lakh with 77 centres, including 24 maternal centres. At the heart of the health care for the urban poor are the link workers who connect the communities to primary healthcare.

Researchers from Maastricht University and Zuyd University spent an average of eight weeks along with doctors from The Baptist Hospital in the slums of DJ Halli, Peenya and Summanahalli. These regions are particularly at risk during the monsoons.

Sanitation, open defecation, air pollution affect slumdwellers

Certain NGOs have gone beyond the health aspect to address the needs of this population as an attempt to understand their ecosystem and provide solutions using ingenious methods. Examples include, better cooking methods by ICARUS-NOVA, to reduce indoor air pollution. Project Exhale provided sample data for this effort.

SOCHARA, one of the organizers of the symposium, revealed that disruption of lake settlements further alters the ecosystem, as the urban poor are also dependent on the lakes for livelihood. Construction along the lakes, privatisation and pollution are some of the factors that ought to be addressed with vigour and a non- myopic resolve.

Sanitation or the lack of it, in the slums also formed a part of this discussion. Open defecation, open drains, and manual scavengers have raised a stink that led SOCHARA to work with sanitation workers. In Pavgada, a town in Tumkur, a group of 34 sanitation workers brought to the fore the everyday difficulties of waste segregation, collection and storage. The State Government has allocated Rs 600 crore to address sanitation issues, but implementation requires more accountability and hands.” (Republished with permission. Read more at: