"Grassroots Public Health in India"
Session notes from SAPC 2004

The following notes were taken by volunteer note-takers. There may be errors, and notes may not represent full session content.

Balaji Sampath
Kalpana Karunakaran

Dr. Balaji Sampath is a central figure both within Association for India's Development (AID), and in India where he works with the All India People's Science Movements (AIPSN) in general, and Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) in particular. He has made several vital contributions in planning and executing mass movements & campaigns in health, literacy, and improving quality of education in Indian schools. His work in this regard has culminated in the Hundred Block Plan (HBP) - a multi-pronged rural intervention and development program across India -, which he pioneered with Dr. Sundarraman of the AIPSN. The HBP is currently the largest development program undertaken by AID at this time. Furthermore, along with Dr. Ravi Kuchimanchi, he was instrumental in setting up AID chapters in India and expanding AID in the US.

Kalpana Karunakaran is a key figure in rural development and empowerment associated with the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) and All India People's Science Network (AIPSN). She specializes in community health, micro-credit and women's issues. She has extensive field experience on different facets of these key development areas and serves as a reviewer and resource-person to several organizations and programs in the regard.

Balaji and Kalpana were also instrumental in organizing the Indian People's Health Assembly in Calcutta and the founding meeting of the People's Health Movement in Bangladesh


Addressing of women's health issues includes creating awareness about the body using a "Know your body" pamphlet and having discussions around it. These classes are held for adolescent girls so the girls feel comfortable and do not feel like it is shameful to talk about health issues and body issues.

Kalpana spoke about health care campaigns for women and educating them about various issues. Some women receive pills from the Government, but the women don't even know when and whether they are supposed to take them. So a volunteer visits them to follow up. The TNSF health project employs a woman (typically backward caste and not well off financially) from every village to monitor the health of all women and children in the village. They weigh the children regularly, work with the mothers to make sure the children are not malnourished, work with the Panchayat to make sure her work is visible and is acknowledged, and provide hygiene and health advice to people of the village. They also work with the government nurse to make sure the records are straight and the villagers demand development.

Support for victims of abuse and violence at both in the home and outside is also provided.

They have also started a library program where volunteers’ homes are used as a base. Simple, 2-page stories are written by volunteers and enclosed in a transparent sleeve, so that kids can borrow and practice reading with them. The library program costs them Rs. 1 per month per library, and Rs. 10 for the initial setup.

Street-theater (kalajatha) at village level are for spreading the message. Actors will go from house to asking for food for the theater company thus having one on one interaction with the villagers. Curiosity is also raised when the theater company marches through the village with drums, etc announcing the drama that will be performed.

Q & A

Relationship with Local Government?
This relationship varies depending on the DMO (District medical officer). Attitude towards Primary Health Care Centers among the community is mixed, as most times the PHC does not provide adequate medical attention. Balaji and Kalpana believe that the PHCs need to be reformed and be responsible for providing better attention. There are also issues of discrimination based on caste within the PHC that needs to be addressed.

Toilet building problem

Contact with villagers?
Balaji and Kalpna spent a lot of time in the villages during the initial stages of the project. They now do their work with the support block coordinators and part time village level volunteers.

Mental Health issues? How are issues of homosexuality are addressed?
Regarding these issues Balaji and Kalpana spoke about the difficulty of addressing them within the parameters of the Hundred Block Plan but were open to suggestion for partnering up with other organizations that they could refer people to.

What we can do in America?
Develop materials for use in classes and for awareness. Content can easily be translated from English into the local language. Provide material support and resources especially for teachers. Provide financial support.

Association for India’s development raises funds in the U.S for the work in India. Balaji and Kalpana are also approaching Asha for Education to fund the education component of the project.

More info?
Online at http://www.aidindia.org/sandiego/hbp_next_phase.pdf