Gorakhpur infant deaths are the most recent instance of abysmal quality of healthcare delivery in rural India. The marginalised poor are the most affected by the criminal negligence of irresponsible authorities. The state seldom expresses condolences. Most of the incidents, like deaths at immunisation or sterilisation camps do not catch media attention because of the shocking regularity of such tragedies!

Nightmare scenarios like water-logged corridors of the maternity ward from where dogs snatch newborns in broad day light or a bull takes a shortcut through a hospital portico are typical in state-run health facilities in our country. The neo-liberal reforms had already neglected the issue of public health, another nail hammered in its coffin. In spite of all odds, some focused and committed efforts towards an all-inclusive public health care, restores our confidence in matters of public health. A dignified society can re-write history positively.

The cultural-political values of modern society are manifest best in the attitude it shows towards health care and education for citizens, without any bias or discrimination. Kozhikode Medical College is a living example, which serves a sea of ailing humanity. Nearly 26 lakh patients flock annually to the 270-acre campus of the college, the premier institution providing medical relief to people across Malabar.

Kabita
Painting by Kabita Mukhopadhyay

 

The genesis of the second oldest medical college in Kerala owes much to K P Kesava Menon, the visionary founder-editor of Mathrubhumi. The foundation stone of the hospital was laid on May 29, 1957 by the then Governor of Kerala, Dr. B Ramakrishna Rao. The project was driven by the zeal of Dr. A R Menon the first health minister of Kerala. He used to camp on a weekly basis to oversee progress. Special divisional executive engineer T M K Haridas and contractors A P Cheerukantan, A K Venkitachalam and Thomas Jacob too deserve mention for their unstinted efforts.

Down the years, the hospital has been a crucible of hope dispensing quality care to ordinary people. However, today the facilities are under enormous resource-crunch to meet ever-burgeoning needs. More change has to happen to accommodate the massive influx of referral cases.

The hospital which once recorded 30,000 deliveries a year – the largest in Asia - still cradles 10,000 mothers and their tiny ones on an average. It boasts an astonishing 20 angioplasties per day and over 1,000 heart surgeries yearly. The 24-hour trauma care unit handles up to 150 cases on a daily basis.

The 1,183 odd bed hospital accommodates a mind-boggling 7,500 patients in cramped conditions. By-standers too have to make do in this confined space.

I met Kalan, a tribal from the forests of Nilambur, who was admitted to the department of Neurology and receiving treatment.  He had no one to call his own. Years back, his wife was struck by thunder while collecting fire wood in the forest and died on the spot. It was raining at that time, he recalled, ‘and it was all over’.                                                        

A social service organisation took care of him and carried him to the Medical College for better treatment. He was happy there. His pain came down since he was getting regular medication. The doctor has advised a critical surgery. He needs to bring somebody of his own to sign a consent document. “How would I find somebody from my clan? They are all scattered,” he muses.  

Kabita
Painting by Prabhakaran 

 

It is the rainy season and there is a huge crush of patients in the general ward. The number of beds is not enough; still the hospital staff gamely manages to handle the situation. People of different faiths wait peacefully. Everybody gets due care, medicine, rice gruel, milk, bread and all else, according to their needs.

Apart from the qualified and dedicated staff, the place is a whirl wind of goodwill activities. For the orphaned during their hospitalisation, there are organisations of social workers, NGOs, student volunteers and good Samaritans who come forward to serve selflessly to care for the ailing masses. On festival days, Biriyani and Payasam are served to all. This Government College Hospital stands as an example in public health care service, silently directing state resources to legitimate beneficiaries. And over all, society too is involved in the whole process.

State-of-the-art life-saving and diagnostic equipment are installed with private, public or governmental support. Professional and experienced senior doctors are assisted by sincere students who have dedicated themselves to the true spirit of the Hippocratic oath.

My encounter with the Department of Neurosurgery here two years back was a remarkable experience. Prabhakaran was treated for his diabetes by Dr. Sajit Kumar (now at the helm of the administration) and needed an urgent operation for his affected vertebral column. The critical surgery was done successfully by Dr. Prakashan, a noble man of few words. The coordination between departments was flawless during the entire process. Starting from the accurate clinical diagnosis, the entire treatment and curing period was a shining example of human commitment. The nursing staff cared not only for the patients but also for the traumatised and anxious bystanders as well.

In times of distress, Kozhikode Medical College reflects its true political-cultural orientation in the field of health care with the help of an enterprising community devoted to making life worth living. 

(Painter and art teacher Kabita Mukhopadhyaya has made Kozhikode her home and is a 'Mathrubhumi' columnist. She could be reached at <prabhakarankabita@gmail.com)