Riya Das

In Celebration of the Last Mile

This interview was conducted by Ms. Vidhya Srinivasan

EHA is running an interesting exercise for celebrating the Women’s Week in March, where they are showcasing interviews of “Women in Healthcare”, working in different capacities. They have been interviewed by member volunteers.

I was lucky to interview Ms. Riya Das, a health care worker at iKure, one of our member organizations doing exemplary work. With their well-trained healthcare workers, backed by proprietary digital technology & telemedicine, iKure brings primary healthcare services to over 5000 villages in 7 States in India, touching the lives of over 1 million patients. They provide training to community health workers equipped with point-of-care (POC) devices, which enables them to provide door-step monitoring and diagnostic support.

A freewheeling chat with Riya, me in my out-of-touch Hindi and she in her Bangla -Hindi, was a great discovery and I was glad for the zoom video room to be able to see her.

Young and focused – 25-year-old Riya is passionate about her work. An average day in her life begins at 7 am. She rushes to catch the metro or bus to reach her clinic and joins her 12 team members including a Doctor in the lead, to proceed to the screening camp planned for the day.

On an average the camps attract 150 – 200 patients and covers General Health, Eye care and Maternal & Child Health.

A medical Lab Technician Diploma holder, she primarily works on drawing and profiling the blood samples. A minimum of 150 of them on any given day. Hard work with no room for errors.

I ask her what drives her to do this day after day- every day of her life? Her face lights up with a beautiful smile and she says “Bahut garib aur zarrooratmand logon ko service dene ka chance milta hain”

She explains – “The community where I work is very poor. And with poverty, comes very poor awareness and bad health. They do not even have enough to eat. I want to do something to help them. This screening can help them become more aware”

I asked about the places she has to visit on work – Tabageria , Jhargram, these are not just backward but also bordering on dangerous with the presence of Naxal activity in that area.

She confesses that her parents and In-laws are worried on this count. But when working in these areas, they wind up their work day earlier, by 4 pm and head home before it gets dark, to avoid unnecessary exposure.

That brought up the family, and I asked her how supportive her family was? Her father is a manager in a private firm and her mother is a home maker. She lives with her in-laws. Her father-in-law works in a courier firm and the mother-in-law is a home maker.

Growing up- her father was very clear that both his daughters should have a proper education and encouraged her to study. And happily, her husband and in-laws support her career. Her husband works in a private firm, and between them they have enough to lead a decent lifestyle. No annual holidays though! Luckily for her it is a Monday to Friday week and she gets to spend weekends fully at home.

Speaking about gender equality, she recalled her experience with a Women’s Self-Help Group. Referring to them as “Didi Log” she said “Is zamane main jyadatar mahila log kaam kar rahein hain, aadmii ho ya aurat , sab samaan hain.”

She added that elder women in families, who never stepped out to work, are also more open to the idea and are supportive of girls working and being economically independent.

“So, is it a career or is it a job for you?” I ask her. She doesn’t even pause to think before answering “All my life I see the poor, who don’t get the treatment properly, it makes me feel bad. I want to change that.”

And she is investing in her career: adding to her qualifications by taking courses in ECG, X-ray technicians’ diploma etc., and planning for a time when she may take up a desk bound responsibility when she decides to start a family.

A very practical thinker – she said “If a kid comes, we need to figure out and balance – I am trying to study and get experience and look for a better job with different profile which can allow the balance.”

Her eyes lit up when I asked about her sister. “She was born 10 years after me and she is still in school. She is very good at art. If she asks for my advice, I would like her to become a Nurse”.

And then she surprised me by adding – “if anything COVID has taught me, it is that there is a huge unmet gap in the healthcare system. India will need many qualified and trained healthcare workers”

Speaking about COVID – she confessed that it was the most back breaking 7 months of her life. 12 hour shifts and most of it on foot. Every day she, along with another colleague would trudge from one construction site to another, screening construction workers, about 200 a day, for symptoms.
But the experience makes her positive and stronger about wanting to be in this industry.

Speaking about the challenges at work – she summarized it in 4 words – Food, Toilet, Transport, Timing. Many a times they are unable to carry a packed lunch leaving home early and do not have convenient connections in public transport to reach their destination. Even if they carry lunch, they are not able to maintain a schedule while in camps. Toilets are a real big problem. Otherwise, she loves her work and would not like to miss a single day.

She foresees a bright future for herself and her sister in Public health and hopes she would be able to do her Diploma in Nursing too, some day.

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