In India, a country with a public health care system that is dangerously overstretched, large parts of the country have limited or no access to basic medical care. This is not a unique problem in developing nations, but in India the situation is especially dire. The Wall Street Journal reports that government spending on health, at 3 percent, is among the lowest in the world.
To address the need for health care in rural areas, the nonprofit organization Impact India is implementing an inventive solution. In 1991, the organization launched the Lifeline Express, a mobile hospital that travels to rural villages on India's 68,000 miles of railway tracks. The hospital's mission is to defeat "avoidable disabilities," including some forms of blindness, deafness and physical handicaps. The train's staff of neurosurgeons, dentists, anesthetists and other medical specialists also treat a range of ailments.
Yet, despite Lifeline's best efforts, Impact India's chairman, A.H. Tobaccowala, estimates that the train has reached less than 10 percent of Indian citizens in need of medical attention. Although helpful, the train is ultimately an unsustainable solution. Lifeline's goal is to eventually make itself obsolete by spreading medical prevention advice across India. The Wall Street Journal reports,
The grassroots program aims to reduce disability by improving community health and neonatal and maternal care by focusing on malnutrition, sanitation, hygiene and family planning. To get the message across, mobile clinics are equipped with LCD screens showing film clips about health-related issues, while a local art form called Warli painting is used on posters, clothing, walls and even water pots to spread the word.
The Lifeline Express has inspired similar train hospitals in countries such as China and Zimbabwe. Lifeline's target of increasing awareness about disease and disability prevention is perhaps its most important function, but for now, the train continues to wind through rural India, bringing hope and health care wherever it goes.