New Health Centre

August 28 2023 | by

IN THE TOWN of Bantumilli in the district of Andhra Pradesh, India – just as it did in so many places in the world – COVID-19 took its toll. India managed to cope with the first wave of the pandemic, but there was a total failure to prepare for the second wave, which experts had predicted was coming well in advance. As a result of a lack of oxygen and ICU beds, patients died in large numbers – most of them were middle-aged.

“The official death toll is grossly underreported,” says Sister Sofiya Philip of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “Inexplicable miseries and hardships were unleashed on the people, and at a certain point everyone felt that there was no help from the government.” The pandemic highlighted the vulnerability and unpreparedness of the Indian health system. “The Catholic Church is the largest agency, apart from the government, engaged in health,” she continues. “It became our duty to fight the pandemic. Although we were plagued by a lack of every facility, we feel we did our part to the best of our ability during the pandemic.”


A health centre


The Sisters, however, wanted to be able to do more, and so began a project to establish a rural health centre which could care for at least 50 to 75 patients per day, serving not only Bantumilli, but also other villages nearby. “The most common diseases we see are typhoid, viral influenza, arthritis, thyroid diseases, and skin diseases,” explains Sr. Sofiya. “Many of the patients need to be hospitalised and treated. We didn’t have the structure to do that and had to refer them to far away hospitals, which were often also beyond the means of the villagers. We felt we had to do something for these people.”

The population of the area are entirely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Rice, oilseeds and areca nuts are the most important crops, with seasonal crops such as vegetables and fruit. Traditional methods are used including using animals to cultivate the land. Most of the people live in poverty. Lack of rain or too much rain can ruin a crop and leave the people with enormous debts.


Three Sisters


The Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a Catholic women’s institution which was founded in Italy in 1931. It has been present in India since 1980. The community in Bantumilli consists of just three Sisters who are involved in health, social care, and pastoral duties – one is a nurse, another a doctor, and the third a social worker. Until the realisation of this project, they were making use of a room at the rectory, but it was dilapidated and totally inadequate to meet the health and hygiene needs of the sick. The diocese donated the land for the dispensary, which would consist of a waiting room and registration desk, a consultation room, a pharmacy, a treatment room, and a 4-bed inpatient ward. The total sum requested was €28,100 and this was granted by St. Anthony’s Charities.


Three instalments


The first instalment was received in February 2022, and work commenced the following month. Works included construction of a compound wall to secure the property, excavation and placing of the foundations, construction of columns and plinths, and building of the initial stages of the walls.

The next instalment of funds was received in October 2022 – this was delayed due to some banking difficulties. “We spent weeks clarifying issues and getting things done. It was exhausting.” says Sr. Sofiya. By the end of this stage, the building structure was complete: pillars in place, walls built and sunshade completed.

The third and final instalment was received in February 2023. This instalment was used to tile the floors, fit bathrooms with anti-skidding tiles, complete table tops with natural granite, complete plumbing and sanitation works, and paint the whole building.

After completion of the new building, His Excellency Joseph Raja Rao Thelegathoti, Bishop of the Vijayawada diocese, blessed the clinic on 12 April. In the future, in addition to the three Sisters, around 20 volunteers will help with the mission. Patients who can afford to do so will contribute to the cost of their medicine and treatment.


Profound gratitude


“During my religious formation I heard that every vocation is an answer to the cry of the people; and I realized it after coming to this mission in Andhra,” says Dr. Sr. Shybi. “That realization prompts me to continue my services here as a physician. When we came here three years ago, the people were being treated by unqualified, unauthorized medical practitioners. Their limited experience forced them to give indiscriminate high dose treatments offering rapid recovery – but with long lasting health hazards. Though many of the people were aware of this fact, they were helpless as they had no alternate system here. We began our hospital in this scenario. Patients who’ve now experienced the great benefits of our treatment have become the best propagators of our services. Now we have an average of 30 patients visiting our hospital daily.

“We also get patients from the neighbouring districts. They take all the pain and trouble to come here and get quality treatment. I am sure that this hospital will always be a source of genuine and authentic treatment. We will continue our services with renewed energy in our new building. We offer our humble prayers and sacrifices for you. May God bless you and guide you.”

“We acknowledge the ineffable grace and care of God that we encountered all throughout the stages of this project,” concludes Sr. Sofiya. “We met God as human beings in the donors of St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony. We are ready to serve the people of God, but we needed help from people like you. At the completion of this project, we, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, express our profound gratitude towards all of you. We invoke God’s abundant blessings on all of you and on your good works.”

Updated on August 28 2023