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Indian-origin doctors gather for an international meet in Sydney

Doctors must surely be one of India’s largest exports, Dr Sol Qurashi, an orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, said at an international event of Indian-origin physicians in Sydney recently.

“No city is complete without a Chinatown and Indian doctors,” he joked. “Medicine must be in our DNA”.

He was speaking at the first international conference organised by the Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association (AIMGA) held in late August.

Attending the two-day event were medical practitioners from the US, India and from around Australia.

Conference convener Dr Shailja Chaturvedi said at the opening of the event, “This conference aims to acknowledge the accomplishments of Indian doctors both nationally and internationally, and highlight the challenges we face in reaching our potential. It will provide a continuing forum for exchanging ideas, knowledge, innovations and aspirations and empower individual physicians to achieve professional excellence”.

As Chief Guest, the NSW Minister for Health Ms Jillian Skinner thanked Indian-origin doctors for their contribution to Australian society and observed that they are noted “for their talent, endless energy and sense of humour”.

Earlier in the evening, she helped light the ceremonial lamp to inaugurate the event.

The inaugural session was also addressed by Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, the poster-boy for Indian doctors in Australia, who served as president of the Australian Medical Association and is the current Chair of the World Medical Association Council. In his speech, Dr Haikerwal said there are some 1.2 – 1.5 million expat Indian doctors in the world, and listed a large number of medical associations around the world that are headed by Indians.

He urged doctors to move beyond service delivery and get involved with policy and lobbying.

He also touched upon his efforts in organising the H-20, a medical forum on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit.

President of AIMGA Dr Prabha Chandra presented a brief history of the association which was set up 30 years ago as a lobby group for doctors of Indian origin. Indian doctors form the second largest ethnic group in this country. Yet, the organisation has a fair way to go before it matches the influence of its American ‘cousin’ AAPI, the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin, despite the sincere efforts of Dr Shailja Chaturvedi to gather momentum for an Australia-wide body.

AAPI is one of the largest ethnic organisations in the US representing over 100,000 Indian-origin physicians. As a non-profit service organisation, its objective is to promote professional solidarity in the pursuit of excellence in patient care, teaching and research. It also actively lobbies legislators on matters of healthcare delivery and allied challenges, as it shares the goal of providing universal high quality healthcare at reasonable cost to the citizens of both USA and India.

At the Sydney conference, one of the main talking points, understandably, was the issue of taking healthcare to India as a basic human right.

Leading this discussion was GAPIO, the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, which sent a delegation from the US to the conference, led by its President Dr Sanku Ram.

GAPIO was founded in 2011, Dr Ram said, to bring Indian doctors around the world on to one platform and to harness their collective power and talent for improving healthcare around the world and in India in particular. Its membership is currently at 85,000.

Speaking to Indian Link later, Dr Ram described GAPIO’s work in India at the grassroots level.

“There are 700 million people in India with minimal or no access to healthcare, to who we have been reaching out. In Andhra Pradesh for example, we work at the taluk level, each of which is made up of an average of 70,000 people. One of our most successful projects there has been in collaboration with the Eye Foundation of America. We’ve also conducted plastic surgery on deformed faces. Our current project is treating chronic kidney issues, a massive problem there. We are looking at introducing peritoneal dialysis, a cheap alternative to hemodialysis”.

As well, Dr Ram revealed, education of the local populace is an on-going program. Free GAPIO clinics are now operating across the slums of Secunderabad.

“We are constantly assessing what India needs, and what we can do”.

In recent months Dr Ram has travelled to the UK, Canada, South Africa, Jamaica, the Middle East and across India to shore up support for GAPIO’s programs.

“I’m sending a call out to Indian doctors in Australia to come on board as well, and help give back to our home country”.

Other presentations at the conference were based on innovations in medical research and in surgical practice, NGOs in medical care, and strategies for engaging with the subcontinent.

“We had an interesting array of speakers,” Dr Smita Shah of Sydney told Indian Link. “The Indian doctors were particularly impressive, with their presentations on robotic surgery, renal transplants and liver transplants”.

Given that her own research interests are in the field of community-based health promotion, she was also taken with the public health presentation. With her characteristic enthusiasm, she has since been bubbling over with ideas to send to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his campaign to “clean India up”.

Dr Shailja Chaturvedi revealed she has been planning the event for the last eighteen months, taking the responsibility of organising the event on her own shoulders. Some 180 doctors attended, even though she had been hoping for larger numbers.

Dr Chaturvedi is particularly pleased with the lines of communication opened with the government of India. Messages of support came from, amongst others, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

“We were able to reach out to the Indian government as expat doctors who are passionate and resourceful, and ready and able to help. I think we made a mark there”.

Yet she admits there is much work to be done.

Diya to hum jala rahe hain, lekin diya tale andhera hai,” she said, the poet inside her surfacing. “I want especially to reach out to our younger colleagues to come and join us”.

Dr Qurashi was one of the few youthful faces at the event. (He qualified as a doctor in 2000 and hit the news headlines in 2013 for developing the SuperPATH technique of hip replacement which sees patients walk in two days’ time).

 

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Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.
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