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Petition says suffering of the terminally ill is avoidable

Government issued notice on plea from cancer patient Call to include palliative care in medical, nursing syllabus Doctors in Government service should be trained in this care One hospital in each block panchayat area should provide it

KOZHIKODE: The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has taken up a petition seeking its intervention to ensure that the State Government provides proper training to doctors and paramedical staff in palliative care.

The petition, by E. Subair, of Chevayur here, who is in an advanced stage of cancer, and Jose Pulimoottil, a volunteer in Koodaranji here, who gives palliative care, says such care in the Government sector is a basic right of people having terminal illnesses.

V. Mohan Kumar, Chairman of the commission, has issued notices to the Government on the petition. It was not taken up at the panel's recent sitting here, though listed on the agenda, because the Director of Medical Education requested a postponement of the hearing.

The petition says that cancer in more than 75 per cent of the over 40,000 people found having the disease every year is incurable at the time of diagnosis. The State has more than 60,000 patients with incurable cancer. If the patients living with other incurable diseases are also taken into account, the number goes up to 1,00,000.

'Intolerable misery'

Most of such people are in intolerable misery owing to physical problems, such as pain, and psychosocial issues associated with incurable illnesses. Most of this suffering can be avoided, as medical science now has the know-how to alleviate them.

'Only simple medication'

Difficult symptoms, such as intolerable pain and vomiting, can be mitigated and foul-smelling wounds treated with simple medication.

Drugs used for these are not expensive. Yet, most of these unfortunate men and women live in extreme pain and misery till they die. This suffering can be avoided if access to basic health care is made a human rights issue, the petition says.

'Not in curricula'

Medical and nursing students are not taught palliative care since it is not a part of their curricula. Palliative care, the medical specialty that deals with problems of patients with incurable diseases, is a relatively new branch of modern medicine.

The management of difficult symptoms and emotional problems of patients with incurable illnesses has not found a place in undergraduate medical or nursing curricula in India, the petition adds.

Though the State Government has various training programmes to update the knowledge and skills of doctors and nurses in its service, palliative care is not included in these in-service courses.

Most palliative care services in Kerala are run by non-governmental organisations. Recently, a few panchayats in northern Kerala started working with these organisations.

The petition seeks directives to the Government to provide palliative care since its denial amounts to violation of human rights, affecting a large number of patients.

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