Monday, January 11, 2010

A New Year, a New Visit, a New Director and a New Start

Firstly, I must thank & congratulate Dr John, the erstwhile director of RUHSA, who has been made director of CHAD, which has long been his personal vision. Although we have had a stormy relationship, he has welcomed me and allowed me to visit RUHSA; working and learning here for the last 3 and a half years. It is impossible to quantify how much I have gained from my time here. Much of it has has formed the philosophical scaffolding of my MSc and continues to inform my practice in the UK. Therefore, I wish him the very best for his last few months at CMC before final retirement.

Our meeting in January 1989 over 20 years ago was inspirational for me then; there was a propitious sense then, but I was not to know how influential in many ways that first meeting would be. I remember so clearly our trip to the tribal village by jeep aged 18. As we crossed a dried river bed, bouncing against the hard springs, we passed a woman being carried in a makeshift sling by two men. She was still and cachectic. With her huge bulging stomach, a visible ovarian tumour beneath the paperleaf skin, she looked like a child's badly made doll. Dr John stopped to talk to the men. The woman was incapable of doing anything more exhausting than breathing. She was being brought home to die. The faintly glowing embers of interest in medicine in me were fanned. Many years, and several arguments later, despite our often fractious interactions, I am very grateful to him and all he has done for me.

Dr John's leaving, however, means that a good friend and excellent person is now director of RUHSA and I am delighted not only at her achievements, but also at her keenness to continue my association here, working on nothing less than my main interest - mental health. I wish Dr Rita Isaac best wishes for her and RUHSA's furture success. I have every confidence in her.

So far 2010 has had a great start and I can't wait to get stuck in. Early plans suggest that she is keen for me to start looking at community resources for mental health. Mental illness has a huge impact on poor families in rural India - family members are sacrificed to look after the ill person and therefore not only is there a loss of income to medical care but also because of loss of working capacity. This results in mental ill children growing up neglected, tied to cots, restrained, being mistreated and reaching very much less than their full capacity in the strive for families to manage. It is extremely tough. However, mental institutions can neither cope nor provide the answer necessarily. The starting point for sustainable mental care is to look at what communities already do and try to help them to do it better in conjunction with delivering appropriate medical care. A cluster of families with mentally ill relatives have been identified and we are going to explore the idea of developing co-operatives between them. Anything like this whichde velops within the community must evolve through community potential and not be imposed, so I expect the road to the right solution will be long and occasionally disheartening, but I have no doubts that it is the correct path to be taking.

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