MCODS commit to make villages tobacco-free
Varamballi a little village, is just about 15 kilometers away from Manipal. Situated in the Brahmavar taluk, it is home to a little less than 10,000 residents. Today, Varamballi is on its way to becoming a tobacco-free village, thanks to the efforts of Manipal College of Dental Sciences (MCODS)’s Tobacco Cessation Clinic and Varamballi’s local panchayat body – 24 Varamballi Grama Panchayat. Together they have initiated a two-year project to make the village entirely tobacco-free by 2018.
The project initiated in August 2016 by MCODS’ Tobacco Cessation Clinic as part of its social outreach initiative, has made its earnest efforts to build the life ‘beedi’ (cigarette in kaccha form) rollers. Beedi’s- the hand-made cigarettes are rolled manually largely by women as it provides an extra income to the family. With Varamballi’s womenfolk involved in beedi rolling, the men had easy access to this deadly product as it contains apart from tobacco high traces of harmful chemicals including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and ammonia among others.
The project coordinators from MCODs noticed that a sizeable number of Varamballi residents were involved in the beedi-rolling profession. While for some it was life earning for quite a handful women it was an extra earning. When MCODS’ Tobacco Cessation Clinic assessed the prevalence of Tobacco use in Varamballi, the situation was indeed grave. This was largely because the women after rolling the beedies- which is also considered as the poor man’s cigarette burnt the remaining leaves and dust either in front of their house or in the furnace where they traditionally heated water. This created complicated health issues even among small children as the smoke emitting out of such fire made the entire village including children passive smokers. Thanks to timely awakening and help from the local gram panchayat, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHA workers and MSW students of Manipal University who were familiar with the localities immediately a screening mechanism was put in place in each of the following electoral wards of Varamballi which includes Indiranagar, Uppinakote, Salikeri, and Gudabettu.
It took a while for the people handling the project to make people understand the fact that ‘beedi’ is several times more dangerous than cigarettes and can cause severe health hazards. A stringent screening mechanism helped the Tobacco Cessation Clinic to identify Tobacco users from every house. Remedial support measures were initiated to check the use of tobacco included counseling and the use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Today, apart from the local residents, the Tobacco Cessation Clinic also extends its support to screen and prevent the use of tobacco among migrant population working in nearby factories. Screenings are also conducted at educational institutions and religious institutions on regular basis.
As the project reaches its half-way mark, the project team is assisted by MCODS’ dental surgeons and public health dentists to screen pre-malignant oral disorders and Varamballi’s Community Health Centre to regularly screen and refer patients with confirmed malignancy for further follow up treatment. The Community Health Centre has also been instrumental in creating a valuable communication network between the project leaders and residents by encouraging their participation in ward-sabha and gram-sabha meetings. Along with de-addiction experiments, there are also measures to improve the health of the Varamballi residents.
Building a positive life is not just changing the habits. Manipal Dental team is well aware of this. Hence they have taken efforts to re build the families which were solely dependent on the income generated out of ‘beedi’ rolling. In the process of shifting to an alternative and healthier profession the unit has tied up with Rural Development & Self Employment Training Institute (RUDSET) in Herur, Brahmavar, to provide free training for the people of Varamballi village.
Due to the selfless, sustained efforts of MCODS, local governing bodies, public health activists, and of course the willing cooperation of the residents of Varamballi this project is on its path to success. In the last one year, the project has witnessed steady progress and is all set to achieve its goal of making 24 Varamballi grama panchayat tobacco free, a role model for other gram panchayats in Karnataka and beyond.