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  Asia-Pacific
On-the-eve-of-SAARC-Summit:
A Ray of Hope for Medical University Teaching
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Decorations at the entrance of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation conference (SAARC)

For developing countries where public health is still a dream for a large majority, and corporatisation of health infrastructure is rapidly on the rise making healthcare services inaccessible to many people, it is an unexpected but welcome surprise for medical university teachers to elect a doctor who is an ardent public health crusader as well, as their president.

Just a week before South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit begins in New Delhi (3-4 April 2007), it gives immense hope to read newspaper headlines that Professor (Dr) Rama Kant has been unanimously elected as President of Medical Teachers' Association. It gives hope because first time in the history of medical teachers' association, someone who is not only a clinician or a teacher has been elected. This time for a change, medical teachers' association has a person who is not only an acclaimed medical university professor and an eminent surgeon, but also a leader in public health and social initiatives.

He is working as Professor and Head of the department of Surgery at King George's Medical University and is also the recipient of International WHO (World Health Organization) Award for the year 2005 in recognition of his contribution to public health. He has also been very proactively involved with pro-people initiatives and a long-time supporter of India's leading social activists including Right Livelihood Awardee Medha Patkar and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee 2002 Dr Sandeep Pandey.

His major concern is definitely protecting the integrity of medical teaching. He feels that the lure of material and corporate world is undeniably strong and is taking young potential doctors away to corporate hospitals, otherwise who might have been keen to go in medical teaching. It is vital to protect the sanctity of medical university teaching, and make it reasonably lucrative to retain good potential teachers.

Also medical university teachers are often at the forefront of medical research, especially clinical research. So it is vital to expose them to social and public health domains to further their own understanding in making research more sensitive to community's health needs and concerns, said Prof Rama Kant.

Prof Rama Kant was also elected as President of College of Surgeons (LCS) this year. He said that historically, the protection of public health has been accompanied by legal regulation - health law is as old as law itself. Its development demonstrates that the state of an individual's health is often determined by factors beyond a person's medical condition.

The right to health includes access to adequate health care (medical, preventative, and mental), nutrition, sanitation, and to clean water and air. It also includes occupational health consequences such as chronic injuries and diseases resulting from unhealthy and hazardous working conditions.

The minimum requirements are:

Availability — public health care facilities must exist in sufficient quantity. At a minimum, this includes safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, hospitals and clinics, trained medical personnel receiving domestically competitive salaries, and essential drugs

Accessibility — health care must be physically and economically affordable. It must be provided to all on a non-discriminatory basis. Information on how to obtain services must be freely available.

Acceptability — all health facilities must be respectful of medical ethics, and they must be culturally appropriate

Quality — health facilities, goods, and services must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. At a minimum, this requires skilled medical personnel, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment, safe water and adequate nutrition (within the facility)

Prof Rama Kant is also gravely concerned about the need of healthcare professionals to be role models for their community in terms of healthy lifestyles. When it comes to medical university teaching, it becomes all the more vital for healthcare professionals not to portray unhealthy lifestyles. For instance, it is morally imperative for medical university teachers not to smoke or drink, and regularly exercise and be sun-smart to prevent lifestyle diseases, said Dr Kant.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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