Mobile Health Units (MHUs) have been used as early as 1951 in tribal areas of India, with the purpose of improving access to and utilization of health services for people living in underserved and inaccessible areas. In order to access a fixed health facility, these populations have to travel up to 20 kilometres by foot, cart or private vehicle. The long distance and high cost of transport can prohibit access to services, particularly during an emergency. MHUs vary between states but typically consist of a physician, a pharmacist, an auxiliary nurse midwife, one or two paramedical staff, and a driver. Those Units that do not have a van travel by local buses and, when roads are blocked or inaccessible, walk several kilometres to reach communities. In India, the implementation and effective functioning of MHUs is the responsibility of Primary Health Centres. Despite their importance for reaching remote populations, the impact of MHUs on health care equity is seldom taken into consideration during the planning stage. As a result, several barriers to their effective implementation and performance remain. This policy brief assesses the role of MHUs in providing access to health services for underprivileged populations. It provides recommendations to the Indian government for improving the implementation of MHUs.
CREHS policy brief, July 2009, 2 pp.