NEW DELHI: The Lifeline of health services in 13 districts of Assam are the 15 boat clinics functional under the National Rural Health Mission. With the incessant rains the boat clinics are quite a relief.

The Citizen talked to the District Programme Officer (DPO) in the Jorhat boat clinic, which caters to 30 village islands. Riturekha Barua Phukan said, “We distribute medicines for viral fever, cough and other minor ailments. However we help critical patients to reach to the district hospital and get proper treatment. The boat is constantly making trips to the villages facing problems due to heavy rains in the past few weeks to ensure that there is no outbreak of epidemic and necessary care is being provided to them”.

Run under the National Health Mission programme along with Center for North East Studies , these boat clinics however require a major annual repair round during the dry winter months. This is for the safety factor and a flawless service to the villagers.

Such repairs take long and major repairs can only be done during the dry months of winter when camps are conducted with the help of smaller country boats. During the repair breaks of these boats camps are hampered because it is difficult to reach out to the farthest and difficult to access islands in smaller boats which are then hired.

During the absence of Boat Clinics health teams many a times find it hard to reach out to people. Smaple this: Boat clinic Nahor, was under repair, hence the health team had to hire country boats, small utility vehicles, commercial vans and even two wheelers to conduct camps.

Earlier in the year, the team organised day camps in the islands of upper Majuli,the largest river island in the world and villages near Dergaon. Due to lack of hired boats with night halt facility the team was unable to organize camps at the major targeted areas allotted by Kamalabari Primary Health Center, to the Boat Clinic unit like Kathsapori, Kachikata, Baruah Chuk, Kankurmukh, Kerker, Missamora, Dokut Kumoliya, Sengelisuti, Major sapori, Bhakat sapori and Ulupam achieving the set target was a challenge

The scheduled time frame for the post repair release of Boat Clinic Nahor boat was 7th of June 2015 but it got delayed. As a result, camps in the interior islands were not possible. This the authorities running the boat clinics explained to The Citizen. Reaching out to difficult locations in the car through muddy, slippery roads with severe pot holes and water logging kept many districts out of bound.

During flood the demand for single engine boats goes up. The high demand for passenger transportation, ( double engine boat takes a much longer time with strong water current) restricts the hiring of local mechanised boats. The boat owners prefer letting out such boats for passenger service as it is more profitable than letting it out for boat clinic service.

Taking regular trips to these village islands are difficult. Rising water levels become a problem for the boat clinics to carry out the work without interruption.

Referring to an incident of 30th April 2015, Phukhan said, “While setting out from Nimati ghat for a camp at Afalamukh on the referral boat, the weather suddenly changed and became overcast. Soon there was heavy downpour accompanied by strong winds which made navigation difficult. The referral boat was not fit for such weather condition. The team members were terrified. It was immediately decided to halt the journey and the skilful boat crew somehow managed to safely bring back the team to Nimati ghat. A decision was taken to henceforth not use the referral boat during this season with water level rising. These are some of the problems that we encounter every year”.