By Calvin Chin
Whew! Just got back from our 2-day trip to the Indian state of Bihar, which is East of Delhi. The four of us had the opportunity to visit a few telemedicine clinics in several rural villages recently established by our client organization, World Health Partners (WHP). We spent most of our field visits speaking the rural healthcare providers in these villages, understanding their role in the local healthcare system and speaking with villages to find out about the challenges they faced in accessing medical care.
Interviewing in the village was quite an experience! It was pretty clear that Mike and I were the first foreigners to set foot in their area, and our interview with one young woman quickly turned into a conversation with the entire neighborhood that had crowded around us to see what all the fuss was about.
In some ways, rural Bihar is exactly as I thought it would be. Farmland stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. The landscape is punctuated by clusters of small buildings that mark where the villages are. It’s well into the summer, so the heat is a scorching 100+ degrees and many plots of land lie dry and lifeless. Everyone is waiting for the rainy season to come for crop growing to restart. Electricity is intermittent, and WHP has had to develop chargeable solar cells to use as backup power for telemedicine consultations.
What’s been most surprising to our team has been the transportation here in rural India. Most roads are about 2 to 3 lanes wide, with traffic going in both directions. Large freight trucks take up the bulk of the road space, while motorbikes and small cars weave in and out, often through oncoming traffic. The road infrastructure is pretty underdeveloped here: the river Ganges runs across the state, bisecting it into North and South. And yet there is currently only 1 single bridge that connects the North and South, meaning that all of Bihar’s traffic, whether commercial trucks, commuters or private cars, all converge at the bridge, which is near Patna, the state capital where we are staying. Heavy traffic is guaranteed and accidents are common. Our driver once told us that he heard of a 2-month long traffic jam around this area.
It’s surprising to see a phenomenon like this in a “rural” area, but it’s true. We spent about 8 hours of our day on the road simply getting from Patna to the villages outside. As a result we’re only limited to conducting interviews in 1-2 village areas a day. Who knew that traffic would be our biggest obstacle!
That said, we were able to learn a great deal in our interviews, and Mike and I are looking forward to report back on our findings to the clients next week.