Monday, August 29, 2016

Lena R. GH A&S'17, Vivekananda Memorial Hospital-Sargur, Fellowship Program in HIV Medicine

Lena at the Shravanabelagola Temple.

            This summer, I spent my time working at the Vivekananda Memorial Hospital – a secondary care facility that serves people living in and around the rural village of Sargur, India. In two months of working, I learned more than a few invaluable lessons and now enjoy the satisfaction of having made a contribution to the efforts of this hospital. Among several other programs of specialization, the hospital offers the Fellowship in HIV Medicine. This Fellowship is a yearlong course doctors take to learn clinical and managerial aspects of an integrated, non-discriminatory approach to care for patients with HIV. For this program, I was asked to update a variety of curricular materials, including a list of learning resources, flyers, a student handbook, and new promotional video.
            When entering the scene of this hospital, the staff greeted us kindly and with respect. Never was I made to feel badly about my shortage of experience or contextual knowledge. However, one cannot help but notice the professionalism and competence of each staff member. Doctors, nurses, and administrators all approached their jobs with joyful devotion. This spark of enthusiasm was contagious for our group. While the first few weeks required that I overcome some bouts of shyness, I soon found myself conversing easily with residents, nurses, and doctors whom I now regard as both colleagues and friends.
Dorm room in the hospital.
            So what did I learn? The implications of HIV transmission go far beyond immediate clinical consequences. Indeed, patients must grapple with the struggle to obtain antiretrovirals (ARVs), adhere to these drugs, maintain confidentiality, avoid transmission of the virus to others, and watch their overall health. Working on the Fellowship taught me about the unique skillset that doctors must have in order to care for people living with HIV. In response to severe societal stigma against PLHIV, doctors at VMH use a similar protocol for all patients, such that there is no routine differentiation between patients with and without the virus. An Integrated Counseling and Test Center (ICTC) provides PLHIV and their family members with ongoing counseling and guidance, support groups, yoga, and care for psychological difficulties. What I saw in this type of care was a profound respect for the person, and an acknowledgment that holistic, multifaceted treatments yield better prognoses and improve quality of life. The challenge I faced was doing justice to such an incredible program.
            The video below gives one an impression of the hospital and what is to be gained from the Fellowship in HIV Medicine. To explain all that doctors get out of the course would take a much longer video. My hope is that this film alerts doctors and other professionals to the existence of this program and its potential to empower, educate, and prepare doctors to make a difference in the lives of many.
 Link to video: