Unethical medical practices a huge concern: Chennai nutritionist Divya Satyaraj

INTERVIEW WITH DIVYA SATYARAJ

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Nutritionist Divya Satyaraj

The Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation is planning to geo-tag nearly 60K medical equipment costing over more than Rs.1,500 crore in government clinics, hospitals and medical colleges to ensure maintenance and prevent thefts. 

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The state public health department has planned to distribute deworming tablets to everyone in Tamil Nadu instead of just children, twice every year for at least five years from February 2020 in an endeavour to fight against anaemia. More than half the pregnant women and adolescents girls in the state suffer from anaemia, which also results from hookworm infections. 

Plans are being charted by Greater Chennai Corporation to upgrade its health centres and deliver quality medical care near homes to conduct basic surgeries, deliveries and treat non-communicable diseases at primary health centres and community health centres. 

It seems as though the gentle voice of a spunky young girl has been heard by people who matter in the Tamil Nadu state government, for these are among the host of initiatives that Divya Satyaraj would like to  see implemented if her future vision, ‘Universal access to healthcare’  has to be realised. 

Daughter of actor Satyaraj, better known as Kattappa of Baahubali fame, Divya Satyaraj is the brand ambassador of Akshaya Patra, one of the world’s largest mid-day meal programmes. In July 2017, she wrote to PM Modi, making shocking revelations and seeking immediate action against certain US pharmaceutical companies that were threatening her, after she refused to prescribe their medicines to patients because she was concerned about their damaging side effects. 

Divya has a clinic in Nungambakkam and works in another clinic in Mahalingapuram, Chennai. She conducts health and nutrition camps in rural areas and received an award for excellence in the field of community service  for her effort and initiative to get a healthy morning meal to government school children, from Raindrops in March 2019.  

Swati Amar spoke to nutritionist and healthcare activist Divya Satyaraj who has been voicing her concerns about the healthcare scenario in the state.

When did you become interested in health and nutrition?

As a child I had eating problems. My parents did not believe in force-feeding me. My father used to tell me fantasy stories about food and their benefits and I gradually started liking food. My search for knowledge about food and health benefits made me obsessive about health. I have never fallen sick except perhaps with cold and cough, because of how well I take care of my health and probably due to the fact that my parents are health conscious too. My friends call me HM, or Health Minister!

What have you unearthed after your research in government hospitals? 

My journey as a nutritionist started in government hospitals because I strongly feel not only the rich but also the common man should have equal access to quality healthcare and a poor man’s child should also be well nourished.

Two out of five pregnant women have anaemia due to iron deficiency. Government hospitals should diagnose anaemia and give iron supplements to pregnant women and monitor their progress.  As far as cleanliness and hygiene are concerned, government hospitals have a long way to go. Patients have low immunity and are susceptible to various kinds of infections during their stay in hospitals. Hence it is imperative that the corridors, operation theatres, wards, consulting rooms, kitchen and every niche and corner of hospitals are kept clean. 

During monsoons, when there are epidemics, government hospitals do not have adequate supplies of quality vaccines, causing people to run from pillar to post. Government hospitals do not have enough blankets and pillows and I have had patients telling me that they have to bribe the hospital staff to get these. There should be enough stock of clean sheets, blankets and pillows. A lot of work needs to be done in government hospitals to give quality healthcare to the poor. 

What are your views on private hospitals?

I come across many horror stories about private hospitals that stem from inadequate communication by doctors, delay in diagnosis and subjecting patients to a volley of unnecessary tests like CT scans, MRIs etc. It is not uncommon to hear of patients being treated like revenue generating machines. 

Common citizens are terrified of walking into a corporate hospital for fear of exorbitant costs that burn gaping holes in their pockets, or because they lack the confidence that they would be cured. Everyone has a horror story about hospitals. Once I had gone to Madurai for a conference. I went to visit a family friend and came to know that her daughter-in-law was admitted to a hospital. They had done a CT scan, MRI, X-ray and the reports did not reveal any problem. She was a new bride, who had acidity due to something she had eaten. I got her discharged immediately, at my own risk. 

Private hospitals should be accountable and answerable. Doctors should be aware that treating patients irresponsibly could have grave consequences. Only if that fear is there would patients be treated well. You cannot play with human life.

What are your experiences with hospitals in Chennai?

Private hospitals lack commitment and accountability, especially when it comes to post-operative care. Secondly, patients who approach doctors with earlier history of treatment find that the focus of the new doctors is not so much on treatment as on putting down their competitors. Professional jealousy and insecurity in the medical field are unpardonable. 

Also, doctors in private hospitals are more interested in improving the revenue of the hospitals they are associated with. This has resulted in corrupt practices of referral to diagnostic centres which collaborate with hospitals and doctors, based on commissions from referrals. 

Another matter of concern in Chennai is rampant unethical practice by skin clinics, most often functioning without licences. Procedures such as skin-lightening Botox injections etc. which should be done only by qualified doctors and anaesthetists are often performed by junior doctors and staff. They often prescribe creams that are not FDA approved!

What is your vision about healthcare in our country?

I feel the field of medicine should be synonymous with saving lives and empowering health. Instead, it is turning into some kind of a scary monster. There are innumerable NGOs for various issues but there is no strong enough network that protects people from medical negligence. Nothing is more important than human life! I would like to see a strong network to fight medical negligence.

We need an ethical healthcare system that brings hope of healing to people. There should be stringent penalties for medical malpractice. We need to be a nation where the common man does not feel threatened or intimidated to enter a hospital. Parents should get risk-free medicines for children and not be worried about expiry dates or banned medicines. Children should not have to worry about taking their parents to hospitals for health check-ups or treatment. Even people from higher income groups are terrified of walking into a hospital. 

My vision for India is that of a country where a common man feels confident to walk into a hospital whenever he is unwell, with the belief that he would get adequate, effective and affordable treatment.  

What is your present focus?

I just completed my research in government schools in and around Chennai, which I would be extending to other parts of Tamil Nadu. 38% of boys and 40% of girls in government schools are anaemic. I will be meeting the education minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr. Sengottaiyan, to discuss ways to reduce anaemia and improve the health of children in government schools, by giving them iron supplements and monitoring their progress. During our meetings on earlier occasions I found the minister forthcoming and encouraging.  

How do you envision your future journey?

While healthcare is my focus, I would like to be involved in the process of development of our country, because I see there are many issues to be resolved. I will be commencing my journey in the political arena soon. I would not like to be a Twitter/Instagram/Facebook politician because I believe that you will never understand the depth of sorrow or happiness of people until you meet them. I started my field work three years ago. I believe in being independent and have never used my father’s name, fame or money to establish myself. I have had my struggles. My political journey will continue and I will fight my own battles.


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About Swati Amar 5 Articles
Swati is Editor-in-Chief, Eve's Times Group, a prolific freelance writer/author and content producer. She is a concerned citizen, who serves as Trustee on several foundations. She can be reached at editoretg@gmail.com