In Auroville, the first and primary health care institution is the Auroville Health Centre, which runs a program of basic curative and preventive services. Recognized as a Mini Health Centre by the Tamil Nadu State Government, it is equipped with basic medical facilities and staffed by a committed team. It serves the Auroville area as well as about 75 patients daily from the villages at its main centre near Aspiration and its seven sub-centres. A team of 13 local women trained as village health workers serve supportively in 10 villages, giving first aid, home advice,basic health education and doing daily dressings.
The Auroville Health Centre also runs a 3-bed in-patient facility, a medical lab, an X-ray facility, a pharmacy and offers several preventive health programs to village women and children.
Starting off in 1969
The Auroville Health Centre traces its humble beginnings to 1969, when the Mother allocated Rs.5,000 to start a dispensary in a thatched hut in the area now known as Douceur. The community of Aspiration was not yet built. There were hardly any Aurovilians living in the area at that time, and the dispensary was created mainly to serve the villagers from nearby Kuilapalayam. The dispensary expanded rapidly. By the end of 1973 a permanent structure, designed by Piero, had been built with donations from a Parsi lady (Ms. Wadia), the Government of India and Auroville.
Sub-Centres in the bio-region
Gradually the Health Centre extended its activities to other villages.
Today, there are seven sub-centres where daily wound dressing is done and where once a week a doctor from the Health Centre gives consultations. In 11 other villages, health workers trained in the Health Centre provide first aid, calling on the Health Centre in emergency cases. The Health Centre is also active in providing education.
Team of doctors and nurses
Many people have helped to develop the Health Centre, but four doctors deserve special mention: the late Dr. Satyabratha B. Sen, Dr. Kamla Tewari, Dr. Lucas and Dr. Assumpta. While Dr. Sen originally started the Centre, the latter three, over the years, not only took charge of the running of the Centre, but also raised funds to expand its activities and extend the building. They also built the Health Centre staff quarters, and gradually a community health program took shape.
Community health programmes in the surrounding villages
Apart from basic health care services, the Health Centre team is overseeing the following activities, or has been instrumental in starting them off:
- training village women as Village Health Workers and supervising their work;
- regular antenatal clinics with free laboratory facility and medication.
- monthly child growth monitoring for under-fives, including nutritional advice
- working with the schools on health education and carrying out health checks on Auroville and village children via the schools;
- maintaining the 3 -bed in-patient facility.
The day-to-day charge is presently in the hands of Albert, who joined Auroville in 1997 after having worked for 30 years as Chief Nurse in a hospital in the Netherlands , Joseph, a psychiatric nurse and Dr Uma.
"At present the Health Centre treats over 30,000 patients a year, 10% of whom are Aurovilians," says Albert. "It has become a major task to raise the funds to run it. We have a laboratory with all facilities, an X-ray machine and a small operating theatre. There are qualified doctors available between 9.00- 1300 and doctors' consultation is provided till 5:30 PM. A nurse is available on duty for 24 hours daily..
We are often criticized for not offering 24-hour medical help, but it is not presently possible as only two Aurovilian doctors work for the Health Centre."
The endeavor is to have a functional facility for 24 hours daily. After 5.30 p.m, emergency cases usually have to be taken to one of the newly constructed medical institutes nearby or else to Government's hospitals in Pondy. Shortage of funds is a setback, but we hope that eventually we will be able to improve this service.