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Lokvani Talks to Pramila Vivek of IHO

Nirmala Garimella
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It is a minute before twelve on a foggy afternoon and I am practically running to be on time to meet with Pramila Vivek, VicePresident, IHO who had promised to meet me at the Au Bon Pain at Harvard Square. Sure enough, I spot her at a corner table and I am not surprised at her punctuality. In our innumerable conversations on the telephone, she strikes me as a person focused, earnest and dedicated to a cause that has taken a commitment of more than ten years of her life here in Boston – working as a volunteer for IHO, a Boston based non profit, non government tax exempt organization for Health and Development in South Asia.

At the outset, Pramila who is a public Health Professional and works at the Harvard Medical International, Harvard Medical School tells me that IHO is celebrating its tenth anniversary and as part of its aim, is the launch of a fund raiser calling for individuals to ‘Work an Hour” and donate the hour’s worth or more of it to health and rural development projects in India. It is a catchy slogan and Pramila asserts that it was thought of after much effort. According to her “when you ponder on the fact and calculate the amount, it is so minimal that it may actually spur you to consider and donate for it. It is a convincing argument and I cannot help but agree when she says that “many of us like to be involved in a worthwhile cause, but when we cannot do it actively they are still ways to help out, rather than not do anything at all.”

The force behind IHO has been Dr Bikas Verma, President, IHO Pramila informs me, who gathered together in 1992 a group of multidisciplinary experts and volunteers who shared his vision and offered their expertise in the areas of International Public Health, clinical medicine, lab sciences, health education, training and other health programs. The first state that they focused on was Bihar. “It is very easy to access and reach the metros, but our goal was aimed at the most remote areas”, says Pramila “as the problems facing these areas like sanitation and water borne diseases were problems that needed immediate notice and attention”. Pramila admits that it has been a challenging and difficult given the kind of Indian milieu and the ignorance and poverty that exist in the villages, but the fact remains that it is possible to communicate and reach out with the right assistance and support. IHO is also working in Tamil Nadu and Nepal and will be adding the sates of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, in the near future.

IHO works with its counterpart in India, the HPW (Health and Public Welfare Society) and its main thrust is in the areas of environmental health (control of water borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera), community health (such as maternal and child health, AIDS) and empowerment of women (vocational and health education). John Kenneth Galbraith, Professor Emeritus and former Ambassador to India has been a strong supporter and espoused their cause in the writing of grants and proposals. Pramila also tells me that they work with close conjunction with Care and UNICEF in India, Duncan Hospital and the Rajendra Agriculture University and a local NGO agency called Aditi in Bihar. Of late, IHO has added Nepal which is in close proximity to Bihar in their developmental efforts with a special focus on AIDS that has currently reached such an enormous proportion that ignoring it would be a death knell of health prevention in India.

To gain attention to this problem, Pramila adds IHO recently held a AIDS IN INDIA international conference and workshop in December that was very well received with the active involvement and participation of groups such as the World Bank, MGH’s Center for AIDS Research, WHO, USAID, among others. The theme of the conference was best summed up in Dr. Bikash Verma’s declaration that ”the impact of HIV epidemic in a developing country like India must be understood in the context of critical social and economic problems, creating a strong need for coordinated response at an international level”.

It is curiosity that drives me to ask Pramila as to what made her enter into this area considering that they are many organizations that do this, and her simple statement “that although the task is extremely difficult yet someone has to do it” strikes me as profound for the IHO agenda in trying to achieve its goal in the best manner that it can, not with agitation and publicity but with a quiet purpose and determination of a enormous task ahead that has to be done notwithstanding.

So if this question arises as to when was the last time that you sent in a check for a worthy cause. A month, two months think again. If you haven’t and wish to do so, this is one that you may want to consider. For more details on IHO you can visit their website at ihousa.org.



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