In Ganiyari, Chhatisgarh, you will find Jan Swasthya Sahyog (People's Health Support Group; that website will soon be revamped) housed in a series of modest one-storey buildings that run parallel to the road. When I get there last week, my first impression is almost as if there is a marriage on: people milling around all over the campus.
They are, of course, waiting. Waiting for treatment. JSS runs a low-cost health programme that caters to nearly 500 villages around Ganiyari. There are other doctors and hospitals in Bilaspur, some 20km away. But JSS has built a reputation that patients mention again and again. "I heard that my illness would be cured here … I heard that the doctors are good here … I heard that medicines are available cheaper here … I heard that I would at least be seen here" -- such are the things they say to me. Drawn by that reputation, patients come from 80km, 25km, 8km 120km away, I hear all these numbers. More than one family has trekked from Ambikapur, nearly 250km north of here.
It's as if, sitting here in Bombay and feeling ill, I journey halfway to Goa to get treatment.
But if the distances are one kind of number that tells stories about health care here, several instances of another kind are painted on the low wall that surrounds the OPD clinic. The wall is topped with black granite, and regular white strips spaced every couple of feet mark out places in a queue to get into the OPD clinic, held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And each of these places has a number painted on it.
JSS's team of doctors works hard, but they simply cannot keep up with the crowds that stream through their gates every day. So when I get there on a Monday afternoon and start getting to know the place, I quickly find this out: people here are laying claim -- with bags and bundles of clothes and other paraphernalia -- to the numbered spots on the granite wall to form the queue for Wednesday's OPD clinic.
Not just that. So great is the press of patients that some of these folks won't make it into Wednesday's OPD either. So they are here on Monday and will wait till Friday to see a doctor.
In Bombay, I have been known to be impatient at having to wait half an hour in the OPD section of the nearby hospital.
I walk along the wall, stopping to chat occasionally with patients and their families. Two sights strike me.
One, while bags or people mark most of the spots in the queue, several are saved with bundles of firewood. Many patients' families have brought these along to cook meals while they wait for treatment.
Two, one of the spots is saved with an unexpected object. Decorated with multicoloured strips of cloth, lying unattended across #22, is a lone crutch.