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15 June 2013

ETHNIC CHANNEL OF WOMEN HEALTH INFORMATION IN RURAL MANIPUR


According to the 2011 census, about 68.8% of India’s population resides in rural areas. About 75% of health infrastructure, medical man power and other health resources are concentrated in urban areas, where about 31.2% of the population resided. It is also said that two-third of the population in the country consists of women of child bearing age and children under the age of fifteen years. This age group is considered to be the vulnerable age group suffering more severely from consequences of socio-economic development. Because of their ignorance of health, hygiene practices, and household responsibilities women tend to neglect their illness till their health problems get aggravated to the extent of becoming too sick to move around and attend to their normal household chores.
The government at the state and central launch a number of health facilities and schemes for women but these health services provided through a network of health workers, government hospitals, dispensaries, and primary health centers do not sufficiently reach the targeted beneficiaries. Consequently, the health schemes remain underutilized by women particularly in rural areas. One main reason for under-utilization of such essential schemes is due to lack of awareness. Lack of awareness also led to negligence and unfair practices that propel the whole systems into total obliteration. When the deficit in awareness has reach endemic proportion, the problem can be solved only with knowledge disseminated through effective information channels. Contrary to the general assumptions, all communication channels are not universally effective. In rural India, the effectiveness of communication channels is significantly decided by socio-cultural backgrounds. If this is the case, identification and usage of the effective channels of the grassroots level is a must. Only such channels will significantly contribute to the effective utilization of health schemes particularly of women in the rural area whose predicaments are further aggravated by various forms of socio-cultural barriers complicating their access to health facilities.
Most technology driven communication mediums are beyond the reach of the rural population in Manipur. The paradox between the necessity to put across government sponsored women health schemes on the one hand and the defective communication channels on the other hand can only be bridge, at this stage, by utilizing the existing ethnic communication channels. Most transaction of information among the ethnic groups in Manipur is largely based on the age old traditional forms of communication. Traditional ethnic communications are fairly simple and cost effective verbal protocols disseminating information through trusted channels. Being based mainly on trust, ethnic bodies like the village council, chiefs, parents, elders, religious heads, friends, persons from the same community and village are still the effective channels of communication. The disseminated information is adopted only if it comes through one of these trusted channels. Among the rural ethnic groups women health is not an individual issue. With decision on women health being taken by way of taking every members of the family into confidence, mere handing down of information to the concerned woman will not yield the desired effects. It is due to this deeply entrenched tradition, the formal institutions like health workers, health center and similar instruments are not capable of making much dent.
Besides the inappropriate forms of existing formal channels, the other mistake committed in the dissemination of woman health in rural Manipur is this failure to regard the unique culture and tradition of the various ethnic groups. The one-size-fits-all approaches of Delhi contribute a lot in decapitating the women health schemes. Fortunately, trusted channels of communication, by word of mouth, across the different ethnic groups are similar in nature and practice. Exploitation of this form of communication, in most likelihood, is the only viable means through which the rural women can be reached.
Women health is a family subject that concerns the community. Decision on women health is not taken individually but through a consensus involving the family and the community. Ethnic communication channels not only ensure reaching rural women with health information but also help in building consensus among all who matters in the process of making decision on the woman of the family. The ethnic communities valued communal consensus and most of the individualistic aspirations that affect the community are considered immoral. The individual is part of the community and community good cannot be sacrifice for the sake of individual good. Such value system calls for a community based approach even when the target is the health of an individual woman. Since individuals are only part of the community, the benefits of the community must be underscored to ensure mass acceptance and adoption. In such distinctive circumstances, the said ethnic channels of communication should be made the de facto standard of communicating women health information among the rural population of Manipur. 

Featured in "Eimi Times", a daily vernacular newspaper on 15th June 2013