Do you know your blood pressure?

It is a hot and humid day in December 2016 somewhere in Kerala, South India, as the whole village comes out of the shade of their huts to greet some new visitors: the two of us, a few former Making More Health participants, and representatives of a local NGO from the Karl Kübel Institute for Development Education in Coimbatore.

Today, our aim is to observe the health situation in South India and the community’s knowledge of common medical issues. We start measuring the blood pressure of the villagers and identify several people, both young and old, with a systolic blood pressure close to 200 mmHg. Back in Germany we would consider this reading an emergency. However, none of the hypertensive people knew about their condition or about the serious complications of high blood pressure or how to obtain treatment – or, in fact, about cardiovascular diseases at all. Luckily, the NGO organizers can point them to the next clinic that can treat them.

The locals ask us to come into one of the huts to see an old, sick woman. She is dehydrated, with dry skin and swollen legs, and has suffered a stroke that left her right hand and leg paralyzed. Her blood pressure is high, and she obviously has heart failure. We recommend transferring her to a nearby hospital, but transport is an issue. Non-emergency transport is unavailable unless the village can afford to finance an expensive ride or if the local NGO supports it.

This situation opened our eyes, and ultimately the blood pressure screenings became the first step in establishing a structured educational program for tribal villages to prevent situations like this. This sparked the Health Community Worker Program in early 2017.

With the help of Boehringer Ingelheim employees from all over the world, the local physicians in Kerala and the NGO, roughly 50 residents of tribal villages and the nearby city of Coimbatore have now received medical training through 12 structured modules on a variety of health topics over the past two years: from diabetes and hypertension to gynecological diseases and mental health issues. The long-term relationships between the tribes, local physicians and the NGO ensure these educational benefits continue.