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Move towards bringing a disability-inclusive, compassionate aspect to medical education

The aim of health education programs is to prepare future medical professionals to deliver safe, quality, and accessible care that improves health outcomes. However, the reality is that there are disparities with certain groups like people with disabilities getting neglected due to ignorance, bias and stereotypes on the part of healthcare providers in different aspects of care.

This can be dealt with by developing meaningful curriculum that reduce that reduce disparities while training, so that the barriers people with disabilities routinely face in accessing clinical and preventive services reduce.

To achieve this, the University of Chicago and the Medical Humanities Group of University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi are collaborating to develop a consensus on the disability competencies that should be acquired by health professionals during training.

This is to define standards for disability training to improve health care for people with disabilities, says disability rights leader Dr Satendra Singh, who was a part of the first focused group discussion held in New Delhi this week.

We were aware that medical training syllabus is changing and we want the new syllabus to reflect disability competencies. We will be speaking to real stakeholders in the disability rights movements, and consulting with doctors with disabilities and healthcare professionals as well to come up with guidelines that must be followed by all professionals. These will then be sent to the Medical Council of India to be included. - Dr Satendra Singh, Disability rights leader

Outdated curriculum

That the MBBS curriculum in India is outdated is stating the obvious. Even the revised syllabus patented by the Medical Council of India(MCI) labels lesbianism and adultery as "sexual offences" despite landmark Supreme Court judgements to the contrary. It makes no mention of the new Mental Health Care Act and uses outdated terms like differently-abled.

Changing the guidelines to reflect disability competencies would help build more empathy in doctors, says Nikita Sarah, Head, Advocacy & Communication, Leprosy Mission of India.

"As someone who wears two hats, one as a person working in the disability sector, and two, as parent to a child with autism, this is very important. There is a major problem faced particularly by leprosy patients. One, treatment of leprosy is optional in medical colleges. When students are sent to polio awareness camps, why is this the case? As a result, leprosy patients are highly stigmatized. Doctors are often not willing to touch them and do things like hold their eyelids up with pencils. Doctors need to be more empathetic and have an attitude change. "

These core competencies on disability also offer standards on social, environmental, and physical aspects of disability which in turn help future health professionals determine how to offer effective, inter-professional team-based health care to disabled patients. The importance of this kind of collaborative practice has been recognised by World Health Organization (WHO) as well.

"The perspective of disabled patients needs to be reflected and the medical profession needs to be sensitized about the needs of disabled people," points out Murlidharan, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD).

"There are so many disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy and behavioural disorders that doctors are not even aware of and they need to be sensitised about how to treat such patients and the right kind of care to offer."

Sarah recalls an incident involving a leprosy patient with a fractured leg who suffered a traumatic experience getting an X-ray done at a hospital. "Right from the ward boy refusing to let him lie down on the bed to the doctor, he was treated terribly." Stories that should move us to look towards addressing the sheer injustice in the medical system. Clearly, it calls for an attitude change right from the top down.

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