Friday 16 July 2010

Media responsibility on palliative care

Photo:Malayalam movie actor Mammooty on his frequent visits to the palliative care clinics in Calicut

A report in today's Times of India screams 'India worst in end-of-life care'. The report rightly laments about the poor condition existing in the 'end of life care' and how India is lying at the bottom of 40 countries from which sample data has been collected. It's true that a newspaper should highlight such a sad state of affairs in a vastly growing economy like India. TOI reports, 'India doesn't just have a poor quality of life, as reflected in its poor human development index (HDI), it also has a particularly poor 'quality of death'.

However what is missing in the news report are some of the highly positive remarks in the original white paper published yesterday by Economist Intelligence Unit on issues surrounding end-of-life care. It says "Amid the lamentably poor access to palliative care across India, the southern state of Kerala stands out as a beacon of hope. While India ranks at the bottom of the Index in overall score, and performs badly on many indicators, Kerala, if measured on the same points, would buck the trend. With only 3% of India’s population, the tiny state provides two-thirds of India’s palliative care services. More over, the state has a formal palliative care policy in place (it is the only Indian state with such a policy)and its government provides funding for community-based care programmes. It was also one of the first of India’s states to relax narcotics regulations to permit use of morphine by palliative care providers. Kerala has also extended the definition of palliative care to include the long-term chronically ill and even the mentally incapacitated."

The report highlights the success story of palliative care movement in Kerala that uses holistic and unconventional approaches compared to institutionalised western approaches. What started in a dressing room of two anesthetists in Calicut Medical College is now the most unique approach to palliative care that is being replicated in countries like Bangladesh, Seychelles and even Switzerland.

While reporting on the sad state of affairs in India vigorously, Times of India could also have inspired many with the success story of palliative care movement in Kerala. With more than 250 self-funded palliative clinics and a massive volunteer base that crosses 20,000 trained volunteers who re-defined community participation in health sector, there are plenty of learning for many other Indian states.

This success story of palliative care movement has to be told mainly because the Government - Public participation (especially community involvement in fund raising and caring) is something that can be replicated in other parts of India. As Dr. Suresh Kumar, Director of Institute of Palliative Medicine says, “there are a lot of medical problems, but there are also a lot of
social, spiritual and financial issues—so anybody who has time to spare can, if properly trained, take care of these people,”.

Indians have heard enough of negative things about their country. It's time we celebrate success stories. Media has a role to play in it.

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