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Blood disorders no grounds to exclude disabled aspirants from studying medicine, argues petition

In Story of the Week our focus is on the Medical Council of India's guidelines barring candidates with disabilities from studying medicine. This week's focus is specifically on candidates with blood disorders.

Currently midway through his Doctor of Medicine degree in Mumbai, Dr Venkatesh, like other post graduate medical students, puts in long grueling hours at the hospital every other day.

Venkatesh is specializing in pediatrics and studying medicine is a childhood dream. Nothing has come in the way of this goal, not even the low phases in health that he has experienced as a hemophiliac.

I faced many health issues in my under graduate days because I did not get factors easily. People born with haemophilia have little or no clotting factor and to stop the bleeding that is experienced as a hemophiliac, you need the factors. If you get treatment at the right time, it can be resolved in a day or two. There were many bleeding episodes for which I had to run around for factors and I sometimes had low attendance, but I ensured I did my job and never failed at my tasks. - Dr Venkatesh, PG medical student

This commitment and dedication to the job is what most of us are looking for in a doctor when we go seeking treatment. Yet the Medical Council of India (MCI)'s new guidelines for MBBS admissions completely discounts students with over 80% disability is certain categories from applying under the disability quota. This includes blood disorders like thalassemia, haemophilia and sickle cell disorder.

This is exactly what the MCI guideline says specifically about hemophilia:

80% of more disability for hemophilia patients is not just physical problems or being wheelchair bound…Such patients have multiple problems including speech, memory, etc., along with physical incapacitation. This is irreversible, such patients are also at risk of frequent bleeds in the same site of the brain…. In view of the physical and mental rigors of training, this recommendation has been made.

This is among the six conditions of the MCI guidelines that have been challenged in the Delhi High Court by Dr Satendra Singh, of Doctors with Disabilities on the grounds that they are discriminatory and violate the RPWD Act 2016 as well as the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

In an article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME) Dr Singh, who fought a four-year-long battle with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to open doors for disabled doctors in central government health services argues,

"One of the biggest flaws of … Assessment Guidelines is the exclusion of doctors with disabilities on the committees. We, the disabled people, are real-life experts on matters pertaining to disabilities. Policymakers and doctors without the lived experience of having a disability must not assume they know of our abilities or doubt our competencies. Where are the voices of doctors with disabilities?, he asks.

The discriminatory guidelines have been highlighted in two petitions to the Centre by the Haemophilia Federation of India (HFI) as well as Dr Singh.

"Unless someone is very severely physically disabled and is unable to perform surgeries, I cannot see the logic of barring them from studying medicine, says Vikash C Goyal, president, HFI. "There are many people with hemophilia who lead perfectly well functioning lives and are capable. Why should they be stopped? Besides, a person can understand the limitations imposed by his disability and choose a field of study accordingly. We have appealed to the ministry and want to understand what the government position is.

It boils down to a question of understanding the limitations that your condition brings and choosing, adds Dr Venkatesh and the understanding shown by those around you.

"I accept that there are certain limitations my health condition has and do my best. I also had a lot of support from my teachers and the hemophilia society which has enabled me to do my best. This is a condition like diabetes, you have to treat it and do your best. We have so many political leaders with health conditions like diabetes, etc. Send them all home in that case. You cannot stop people from studying medicine or being doctors just because they have a bleeding disorder.

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