The NMJI

News

VOLUME 17 NUMBER 2 MARCH/APRIL 2004

News: [PDF]

Trouble in Andhra . . .
In 2003, there was a major increase in the number of undergraduate medical seats in Andhra Pradesh. The entrance examination was marred by hi-tech copying, followed by an ongoing muddle regarding the paid seats.

There are reports of a bizarre incident involving a person masquerading as a medical student at two government medical colleges for nearly two years who could not appear for the university examination and pursue further studies because of financial problems. When charitable organizations came forward to help her, it was learnt that she did not clear the entrance test in the first place and was probably suffering from a psychiatric illness. With the stress of fierce competition for medical seats on the rise, counselling, guidance and family support need to be organized more systematically.

Meanwhile, medicos in Andhra Pradesh appear to be on the path of confrontation yet again. Rebellion is brewing against privatization and commercialization of medical education. The Andhra Pradesh Junior Doctors’ Association has given a call for an indefinite strike from 12 December 2003. They are demanding, among other things, scrapping of the self-finance seats under the development quota, which are presently 3% for the MB,BS course and 25% for the postgraduate courses, and filling up of vacant teaching positions in the medical colleges. With the postgraduate entrance examination scheduled on 31 December 2003, the medical admissions scenario seems to be hazy.

Alladi Mohan, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

Medical tourism in Maharashtra . . .
On 19 November 2003, the Government of Maharashtra, in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), launched the Medical Tourism Council of Maharashtra (MTCM). The Council will project the state as a healthcare tourism destination and chalk out a strategy to improve domestic and international medical tourist traffic. To accomplish this goal, it would rope in both private and public hospitals and tourism sectors. At the inaugural function, the state government also launched a dedicated website for this project (http://www.mahamedtour.com).

According to Mr Digvijay Khanvilkar, the state health minister, quality healthcare is available in Maharashtra at one-fifth the cost in western countries. Maharashtra has excellent doctors, state-of-the-art hospitals and ‘breathtaking tourist spots’, but has failed to exploit its medical tourism potential fully. What has spurred the state government on is the CII–McKinsey report which predicts that the medical tourism industry, expected to grow at the rate of 30% a year, could bring in Rs 1000 billion every year to the state from 2012 onwards.

The Maharashtra government believes that by offering ‘first world healthcare facilities at third world prices’, it can attract a lot of patients from the West to visit corporate hospitals in Mumbai. The state government also plans to spruce up public hospitals to cater to middle-class tourists from the West. For those wishing to combine their treatment with leisure, it would offer sightseeing tours of well-known tourist attractions. These customized packages would deliver the twin benefits of medical facilities along with a leisure holiday plan.

Health activists in Maharashtra were not amused with what they felt was ‘a publicity stunt by the government to increase bed occupancy of Mumbai’s under-utilized corporate hospitals’. By promoting medical tourism, the government was not acting in the best interests of rural and poor patients who might receive short shrift in the public hospitals, the activists warned. They were also concerned that user charges in public hospitals may go up and there was no guarantee that the revenue created by medical tourism would be ploughed back into the public health sector.

S. P. Kalantri, Sevagram, Maharashtra

. . . following medical tourism in Chennai
Maharashtra, it appears, is following in the footsteps of Tamil Nadu. Over 10 000 patients of foreign origin were treated by the Apollo Hospitals Group alone in 2002 in Chennai. Other hospitals that get a steady flow of foreign patients, largely from the Gulf countries and Africa, are Sankara Nethralaya for eye problems and the Madras Medical Mission for heart problems. The Apollo Hospitals have been offering services in all specialties including dental care. The relatively low prices (compared to Europe and the USA), high quality care and the absence of long waiting lists has made Chennai an attractive destination for paying patients from abroad. On the downside, the poor general infrastructure and the obvious and pervasive poverty have acted as brakes on the growth of medical tourism in Chennai.

Thomas George, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Bhopal gas tragedy: A trauma long forgotten
While politicians were speculating on the possible outcome of the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections held on 1 December 2003, the nineteenth anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster passed peacefully on 3 December 2003. The city quietly wept for its dead and rallied around the survivors of the tragedy. Various non-governmental organizations held protest meetings outside the site of the Union Carbide factory. In Bhopal, activists of the International Campaign for Justice burnt effigies representing individuals and organizations held responsible for the catastrophe. The disaster had killed thousands and maimed hundreds of thousands. Non-governmental organizations alleged that chemical toxins from the sealed Union Carbide premises were still seeping into the soil, contaminating drinking water supplies. Spokespersons of the state government reiterated that all possible efforts were being made for the socio-economic, medical and environmental rehabilitation of the gas victims.

As an aside, the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC)—a superspecialty hospital with 350 beds—was started in 2000 following a Supreme Court directive. Along with its 8 outreach centres, it provides free primary and tertiary care to the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy. More than 230 000 gas victims have received free treatment so far. On the occasion of the nineteenth anniversary of the disaster, the Department of Cardiology at BMHRC put up a series of oil paintings depicting the lingering trauma of the victims.

Prabha Desikan, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Asylum-seekers and communicable diseases in the UK:
A political issue
Asylum-seekers in the UK are currently in the news. Are they really the source of communicable diseases, particularly AIDS and tuberculosis in the UK? Whether they transmit these diseases to the native English seems to be a burning issue for the country. The stories put out by the media are seldom positive—asylum-seekers are seen by them as a drain on welfare and NHS resources, and are ‘swamping’ general practice (GP) waiting rooms, at the expense of ‘our own’, living in luxury at the taxpayers’ expense in ‘soft touch Britain’. The reality however is different: many refugees are being made ill by the awful conditions they encounter once they reach the UK, due to poor housing, below subsistence level of income, severe anxiety and inaccessibility to a GP, all of which form a poisonous cocktail for asylum-seekers in the UK.

The issue has become a political one and politicians strive to make political capital by blaming refugees in the hope of getting more votes from anti-asylum voters of the UK. In fact, there are no data about genuine asylum-seekers and illegal entrants in the UK. The number of refugees who are infected with HIV or suffering from tuberculosis or other communicable diseases is not known, making it difficult to compare non-asylum seekers and low income Britons.

Chitta Ranjan Choudhury, Poole NHS, England, UK

 

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