Pudukottai Gets Mobile Tele-Psychiatry Service
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10 February 2011
Psychiatric care is hard to come by in rural areas, especially in districts like Pudukottai, which lacks a proper district mental health programme. To address this, Chennai–based Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) on Wednesday launched a mobile telepsychiatry unit that will tour villages in the district and monitor people’s mental health.
The mobile unit was inaugurated by governor Surjit Singh Barnala at Raj Bhavan. The free service will be available in four taluks of Pudukottai district – Avudaiyarkoil, Thirumayam, Gandarvakottai and Alangudi – in the first phase, and is supported by the Tata Educational Trust, Mumbai.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time that mobile tele–psychiatry is being done in India and possibly in Asia," said SCARF director Thara Srinivasan. "For over a billion people, there are only about 4,000 psychiatrists in India, 70% of whom are in urban areas, leaving the most people without access to mental health care services," she said.
A number of eye–care organisations such as Sankara Nethralaya and Aravind Eye Hospitals have been providing mobile tele–medicine services. "I felt this was a model that could work for psychiatry as well. Though face–to–face interaction is always better for psychiatric treatment, video–conferencing is the next best option," Dr Srinivasan said.
Health workers and employees of local NGOs will refer patients to the bus, which will visit each spot once in two weeks. Doctors in SCARF’s centre in Annanagar will interview the patients and their families and prescribe medication. "The bus also has a pharmacy and health workers will dispense free medicines," she said.
The bus, customised and fitted out by Ashok Leyland, has a large TV screen at one end, which will also be used to screen films to create awareness about mental health. "Consultation will be done in the morning and awareness programmes in the evening," said Dr Srinivasan.
Psychiatric tele–medicine was first done by SCARF after the 2004 tsunami when a number of survivors in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts suffered post–traumatic stress disorder. Director of the Institute of Mental Health, Chennai, Dr R Sathianathan said, "We only have about 345 psychiatrists in Tamil Nadu and most of them are in urban areas."