The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Awe does the rounds at SSKM

More awe than shock marked the visit of a US medical students’ team to SSKM Hospital on Wednesday morning. The shock was at the conditions, the patient pressure and the budget (described by one hospital director as “peanuts”); the awe was at the ability of the doctors to carry out their duties despite it all.

Five of the 10-member group, from Virginia Commonwealth University, USA, were escorted on a tour of the cardiology wards at SSKM Hospital. They examined dozens of patients suffering a range of life-threatening heart and lung diseases.

The sheer number of patients that doctors were required to attend to daily took the visiting Virginia team — mostly of Indian origin — in a daze. “In America, a cardiac specialist would probably see up to 20 patients per day,” said team leader Deepankar Demazumder. “The doctors here today had seen more patients by 11 am!”

Warned of the state health system’s dire lack of resources in a private briefing from American Center director Rex Moser earlier this week, the US team chose not to comment on the hygienic and sanitary conditions at the hospital, during a tour of the intensive care unit, the operating theatre, the post-operation and paediatric wards.

Instead, the achievements of doctors in providing care, in spite of severe financial and technological limitations, left them clearly impressed. “With the financial constraints in India, we are forced to opt for cheaper treatments that may be less effective,” explained SSKM cardiology director Prof A.K. Maity, who was conducting the tour. “There may be a treatment for a particular heart condition available at Rs 1.5 lakh, but we have to settle for one at Rs 55,000.”

Comparing notes on medical practice between the two countries, the US students voiced surprise at the direct approach of doctors here, on Calcutta’s front line. “In the US, if you have a patient with a cough, you take chest X-rays, blood tests and a whole range of preliminary precautions,” added Demazumder. “But here, the doctors just go straight to work on the patient.”

They were intrigued to find patients suffering heart and lung diseases unknown in the US. “There are people with rare kinds of sickness that you just don’t get back home,” said Demazumder. In the paediatric ward, eight-year-old Pochai Karmakar lay at his mother’s side as Prof Maity held up his tiny hands to demonstrate the club-finger condition. The US team, startled to see at first hand a disease they knew little about, took out cameras to photograph his crippled hands.

The students, who arrived on Monday, bringing vital medicines donated by their college, hope shortly to play host to a return visit to the US by Indian trainee medics. Coordinating the visit, head of SSKM’s cardio-thoracic surgery department Prof Susheela Mitra told Metro: “The students have come to learn how we manage to treat such a large population of patients on such limited funds… Our budget is nothing, peanuts — I get Rs 40,000 from the government per patient. We may not have achieved the speed we’d like to work at, but my department has all the infrastructure. And despite all the problems in Calcutta, we are getting the work done.”

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