Wednesday, 23 September 2015

THE CHARITABLE FACE OF SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS

The medical and surgical associations like the Association of Surgeons of India, Association of Physicians of India and numerous others that are cropping up like mushrooms need to have a social relevance. When I see the old associations like the Indian Orthopaedic Association producing as many as 12 baby associations one each serving the spine, hand, foot, knee, hip, wrist……you name it, they have indeed served their purpose well because today if I know more about Brachial Plexus, Burns, Aesthetic Surgery and AO fixation, it is because of these fraction associations. But should this academic pursuit be the only objective of scientific organizations? Most of my contemporaries are now heading these associations and here is some food for thought.

Most of the now a very old and established medical organization have till date only served themselves and their members. An organization of elite surgeons, the best that is available in the State or the country should do much more than that. It is time to ask ourselves have we done anything selflessly for the society and for the poorest of the poor. Societies and Associations are considered big not because of their numerical strength but their core values and principles for which they stand. It is time we acquire a humanitarian face which we can proudly show to the world. Every worthy medical organization in the Western World has a wing which does some social service. This serves not only to boost their image but also get donations tax free and most importantly; it helps the poor and the needy. 

We need to take a leaf out of their book and make us more relevant to the society we live in. Let us identify one surgical / medical health problem and concentrate all our energy and resources to improve its quality care in our country for the poorest of the poor. The organization should have a clear mission statement. Even the goal to provide medical aid to a district with a low socio-economic status is too vague and broad and will not be properly implemented. The leaders of the group must pinpoint the exact responsibilities, whether it will be a childhood immunization campaign or burn care for the poor, or assisting patients of Japanese Encephalitis, or finding a hospital for poor trauma victims, or sending a medical team to promote women’s health, or arranging for school health programme for the under-privileged schools or assisting civic authorities to fight vector borne diseases like malaria or dengue.

One of the main problems in most Indian societies at both the individual and the organizational level is that we often try to carry 10 watermelons in only two hands. Of course, they all fall down so we end up with nothing. When time, energy, and resources are scattered into several different directions, failure is almost always the outcome and very little is accomplished. My advice to these Associations will be to concentrate on one specific segment of charity work and channel all their efforts toward that one goal in a systematic and organized way. If too many aims are chased then these helping hands will fall short in one or all of its endeavors and the quality of the services offered will suffer. Preferably, the organization should pick just one goal, focus on it, and improve its work year after year.

Another advice would be - avoid re-inventing the wheel. If there are already 30 different charity organizations that distribute free medicines and they are doing a good job, what contribution will we add to the society by opening a 31st organization of the exact same sort? We should either join one of these groups to support them and help them grow and expand, or you should serve the community from another angle. Competition between volunteer organizations breeds greed, mistrust and confusion, and fighting for taking credit is not noble.

Imagination and having a vision is sometimes more important than knowledge. Being creative, taking a helicopter look, and expanding our horizons will produce great results. When we raise our ceiling and have higher expectations from ourselves, amazing accomplishments will be made. Medical associations have the moral authority to advice the government regarding health issues and with a track record of service to the society, ignoring their opinion will be both unpopular and hazardous for democratically elected governments. Imagine if the Association of Preventive & Social Medicine of India would have taken the initiative of running the Swach Bharat Abhiyan!

I would like to see some big medical associations like those of Physicians or Obstetricians & Gynaecologists adopt a village in each State and be a part of the Government’s Adarsh Gram Yojna. Smaller organizations can fund a school as this will have long term benefits for the neighborhood. Thorough research, studying the logistics and costs, determining the exact needs of our target, and collecting information and data will definitely boost the productivity of our chosen charity project. A strong leader with excellent management and administrative skills can make this project fly and no medical association is short of them.

Look at what some celebrities in Maharashtra have done – cinema actors, producers, cricketers have pooled their resources and have gone out in drought hit Marathwada to distribute money to the helpless farmers and be seen by their side in their hour of need. This small gesture may be the difference between life and suicide for the unfortunate farmers! If nothing else, it shows to them that the group cares for them. This is what the country should think about the medical and surgical associations.

I am not a believer of silent help because I feel seeing us help will stimulate others to come forward. We should design what advertisers call an “elevator pitch.” In less than one minute, we should be able to explain the chosen mission of our association and what makes it exceptional. A short, concise, and catchy statement can get the message across, and spread our association’s popularity to increase the society’s participation. The success of the Smile Train project is a case in point. Today Plastic Surgeons are seen not just as cosmetic surgeons but as surgeons who can transform a cleft face of shame, hopelessness and despair into a smiling and confident face ready to face the world…….and that too absolutely free of cost!