At a time when medical expenses keep rising, here's some respite for south Mumbaikars from the lower economic strata.
In certain pockets of South Mumbai, Nita Ambani's Reliance Foundation, a philanthropic initiative of Reliance Industries (RIL), has set up primary care clinics to provide preventive and primary healthcare services at a subsidised rate to the vulnerable sections of the society.
Started in December 2012, Reliance Foundation's health outreach programme is growing big. Initially, it connected most parts of South Mumbai through its mobile vans, also known as mobile medical units (MMUs). The three MMUs at present cover about three-to-four areas in a month with high concentration of low-income population.
Covering from Wadala to Worli, the idea was to provide a primary healthcare access to areas that are within 3-5 km radius of Mukesh Ambani's soon-to-be-opened Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital. The Foundation has also set up three static medical units (SMUs) covering areas near Grant Road, Chira Bazaar and Girgaum to ensure a more permanent foothold in the healthcare segment.
According to a Reliance Foundation official, who did not wish to be identified, the preventive and primary healthcare project was started with an objective to provide "health for all", especially to the marginalised communities.
"The project started with three MMUs with experienced staff providing healthcare at doorsteps of community. Subsequently, three SMUs were established. The idea was to establish an outreach for the HN Hospital in its vicinity. Usually, an outreach programme starts after the main hospital has been set up, but we took the other way round in order to understand the health needs of the communities," said the official.
The model has served its objective so far. Around one lakh families, in the vicinity of HN Hospital, have enrolled under this programme. Each family receives a health card that covers the member of the family for an easy access to primary healthcare at any of these SMUs or MMUs. Around 60,000 consultations have taken place in this short period. The consultations and medicines are completely free of cost at MMU while at SMUs the poor get free services.
The foundation is also organising preventive health check-up camps at regular intervals for specialised health related issues, starting from diabetes, cholesterol, and bone mineral density, etc.
"The model is not just committed to low income group and we will treat anybody who will come to us. However, to ensure that those who actually in need are benefited the most out of this model, we created four categories depending on the income level. Those who can afford will pay for the services offered," the official quoted above said, adding nearly 99.5% patients received consultations for free-of-cost or at very subsidised rates.
Under the scheme, a person with an annual income of Rs 50,000 or less (requires a ration card for proof, though) can avail the primary health services for free, while for someone who's annual income is less than Rs 1 lakh can get free consultations and 25% reduction on cost of medicines. However, for a patient with an income over Rs 2 lakh per annum, services are all chargeable.
"The model is being built up to bring down the incidences of chronic disease turning into acute episodes, requiring longer-term hospitalisation. The clinics and MMUs currently employ 12 doctors, 12 nurses and 12 social workers. Based on referrals, the social workers create awareness through door-to-door visits," said the official.
The foundation is mulling a plan to add a few more SMUs as well as polyclinics to meet the healthcare need and growing demand of the communities. In the next six months, it plans to open 2-3 more SMUs and a polyclinic within the vicinity. According to persons familiar with the development, two more SMUs are likely to come up in areas near Bhuleshwar, CP Tank and Kumbharwada.
"By the end of 2014-15, we hope to have a total of 15 SMUs across South Mumbai. Though at present, we are keeping within the radius of 3-5 km of HN Hospital, we may have to go beyond that in the future.
However, the only challenge for us is to get the right place with proper hygiene and water supply, which is absolutely essential for providing quality healthcare," said one of the officials.
The initiative has also been taken to the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand through an MMU, as part of a relief programme of the Foundation, to help out last year's flood victims in the worst-affected areas of the state.