Label STEP has implemented preventative healthcare services across India and Pakistan to give the countries’ handmade carpet weavers access to information and recommendations that support their well-being – both now and in the future.
Individual Healthcare is a Global Issue
Access to healthcare is not only an individual issue, but a global one. In its Sustainable Development Agenda, the United Nations (UN) ranks good health and well-being as a top priority – essential for everyone, at all ages. The Agenda, which is focused on meeting the needs of the present without limiting future generations from meeting their own needs, notes how “healthy people are the foundation for healthy economies,” a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic made abundantly clear: “The pandemic has shown that in rich and poor countries alike, a health emergency can push people into bankruptcy or poverty. 1
Good health care is often as much about access to treatment as it is about access to information – an essential component to making educated decisions about personal care. With this in mind, STEP has developed and implemented targeted health care initiatives across India and Pakistan to both treat immediate ailments and prevent or manage future ones. These various programs are being specially developed with the help of healthcare professionals to respond to the unique needs of these weaving communities.
India’s Health Check-ups for Handmade Carpet Weavers
Individuals born in countries with developed healthcare systems might take for granted the fact that their health statistics have been logged and managed by a healthcare professional for their entire lives. For disadvantaged individuals in India, particularly those living in rural areas, this is often far from the case. STEP’s local representatives identified a need to help weavers establish a health profile, offering them baseline statistics that can be used to track and monitor their well-being over time. Further, they also identified the need to bring a trained doctor to the weavers and their families, ensuring they had access to the care they required.
India’s healthcare activities were undertaken in two ways:
- The Health Monitoring Camps, where an individual’s basic health stats, such as blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar, height and weight are recorded. These visits are conducted by STEP’s field staff and are conveniently offered at audited weaving units so that weavers and workers do not have to find the time outside of their workday to attend. No medicines are distributed during these visits.
- Health Check-ups, which includes a visit from a trained doctor, who is able to provide more complete check-ups as well as medicines, treatments, and recommendations. The medicines for these visits are typically organised through generic medicine stored as well as the government-run Jan Aushadhi Kendra (People’s Medicine Centres).
Over 329 weavers and their family members have already benefited from the program since the start of 2023 –which is a strong start considering this period’s limited working hours resulting from festivities and holidays such as Ramadan, Holi, and Ram Navmi. Local staff will continue to offer these services to as many weavers as possible as the year continues.
Occupational Health and Safety for Pakistan’s Handmade Carpet Weavers
In Pakistan, STEP representatives observed a need to further boost the occupational health and safety of handmade carpet workers and weavers based in the Punjab region. A trained physiotherapist was enlisted to conduct a needs assessment to identify any physical problems being caused by carpet weaving, then to suggest methods and means for addressing them.
The needs assessments were conducted in mid-February 2023, with the physiotherapist visiting two workshops in Muridky where he examined and interviewed 12 weavers. The weavers, ranging from 40 to 60 years old, have all been working in the industry for over 25 years. The physiotherapist noticed how this had impacted some of their postures and caused issues such as arthritis, stiff joints, fatigue and back aches.
With these findings the STEP team designed its Occupational Health and Safety Project to address the physical issues and help improve the overall health of the workers. The program is offered in training sessions that provide weavers with physical exercises to help eliminate or manage pain as well as posture management tips, which can reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders like kyphosis. The interactive sessions cover everything from stretches, corrective exercises for kyphosis, aerobics and limb strengthening to eye checks and workstation adjustments. The two sessions that took place in March 2023, benefitting a total of 30 weavers, placed a great emphasis on ensuring weavers understood each exercise step properly and were able to perform them independently without any difficulty afterwards.
After completing a five day training session, the STEP team will now be hosting regular training and awareness for weavers across different workshops to address their occupational health issues, improve their physical fitness, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and lead a healthy life. This training means they will also be able to support female weavers that work from home.
Holistic Healthcare = Access and Education
Empowering weavers by providing them the knowledge, tools and access they need to succeed is integral to the Label STEP fair trade philosophy. Weaver Empowerment programs such as these are here to raise awareness about common health issues and their causes and to establish a network that ensures it is easier to find and access aid when needed.Across India and Pakistan, STEP will continue to grow its various programs that not only treat ailments and minimize occupational hazards, but that promote autonomy and longevity.
To support Label STEP’s healthcare initiatives, you can donate at label-step.org/donate.