Emmaus International

Pankaj Mehndiratta, coordinator of Tara Projects’ mutual health organisation in India, explains how and why the Emmaus mutual health organisations are essential, and what challenges they have faced during this crisis.

P1000341 min

It has been several years now since the Mutual Health Organization project was started in the Badarpur community, in Delhi, with the guidance and support of Emmaus International. It was an essential step to have some action in the community to support the members in need. Many of them were suffering due to a lack of access to affordable health facilities. The mutual health organisation brought a ray of hope to the lives of the people in the community, where they became equal stakeholders. It was a unique concept for all, where health support was not a business but a human action to help each other. It took some time for members to understand the concept of mutual health.

India has a massive population. Due to the wide gap between the poor and the rich, and the privatization of health facilities in India, access to affordable health for the poor is a distant dream. Although there are public hospitals, a large number of people still remain deprived of medical treatment. Often, medical costs land most of the poor people in debt traps. It is a vicious circle of exploitation.

We are living through extraordinary times due to the Covid-19 crisis. It is a harsh reality that in such critical times, the poorest have suffered the most. The inadequate health infrastructure is not able to handle the ongoing crisis. More than 5,600 people have died and sadly the majority of them are from the poorest classes. The rich are able to afford the private hospitals and can pay exorbitant fees, while the poor had no other option than to depend on the public hospitals, which do not have the capacity and infrastructure to cope. The crisis continues.

We strongly believe that mutual health is an alternative for the poor people. There is a strong need to make the voice of the poor people heard. Where they have equal opportunities and access to affordable healthcare. Mutual health has played an important role over the last few weeks of the pandemic. Although we had to close our healthcare center due to the lockdown, we continued to support each other through other means of communication and actions. There was a feeling of solidarity and care. We do not accept the existing unjust public health system and the private health providers who continue to exploit poor people for their own benefit. We have strongly realised that more emphasis needs to be placed on collective decision making, participation, equal treatment with dignity and access to affordable healthcare. The existing system has to change for the benefit of the poorest.

We are convinced that despite the fact the road ahead is not easy, we have to continue to strengthen our mutual health organization. To make members more aware of their rights and the issues affecting their health. To create possibilities to have better and affordable health care. To create concrete examples as an alternative, as we believe that another world is possible.

In these trying times, we are making all possible efforts to stay connected with the mutualists and to be there for each other. We have never seen such difficult times in our lives. With our Emmaus values we have to continue to create examples of unity and sharing with each other, making access to primary healthcare possible in the community. This is what we need the most today. Though we are witnessing very difficult times, where values have been compromised for capitalistic gains, we cannot afford to be just the victims. We have to be courageous, continue our solidarity and make humanity stronger.

Pankaj Mehndiratta
Coordinator of Tara Projects’ mutual health organisation (India)