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Updated MBBS curriculum with disability competencies to come into effect from 1 August, confirms MCI

From 1 August, the undergraduate medical curriculum will finally include a sizeable component on disability rights, something that has been a longstanding demand of many disability rights experts.

Following a sustained push by disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh and two government bodies, the Medical Council of India (MCI) will finally include a major component on disability rights in the MBBS curriculum. This will come into effect from 1 August confirms Dr Avinash Supe of the MCI.

"The idea of including the disability competencies is to address different cultural complexities in these medical institutions and not only include the needs of people with disabilities", said Dr Supe, who is the Chairman, Reconciliation Board, MCI. "We have seen a lot of casteism as well that happens in these medical institutes among such groups and there is a need for a larger sensitisation among students and faculty members".

Dr Supe also said there would be a focus on other aspects apart from curriculum towards building inclusion. "All colleges must have a mechanism in place in case students need support and they must get a structural audit done, which means they should have ramps, railings, bars, etc. in place. This is necessary for students as well as patients. So, the focus will be on three aspects".

The MCI curriculum was updated earlier this year after over 20 years but did not reflect the disability competencies that had been framed by Dr Singh, founder of the group Doctors with Disabilities along with the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, University of Chicago. These competencies were the result of extensive focused group discussions with disabled people, disabled medical experts, disability rights activists and medical educators.

After repeated interventions by theChief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) and State Commissioner (Delhi) for Persons with Disabilities, T D Dhariyal, the MCI has finally taken note.

The new MCI competency-based curriculum was lacking in understanding disability as a human rights issue. We were already working on disability competencies along with the Bucksbaum Institute at University of Chicago on this. Two statutory disability bodies recommended our curriculum to the MCI and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Initially it was circulated by the MCI to all 521 medical colleges and now it part of it has been incorporated into the one-month Foundation Course which begins in August. - Dr Satendra Singh, Fellow, MacLean Centre for Clinical Medical Ethics

The inclusion is great news, says Dr Singh as it will bring in a human rights perspective vis-à-vis disability, something that is critically needed. "Future Indian medical graduate students will look at disability from a human right perspective. The new curriculum also has one month electives in the fourth year and my next plan is to have an elective on Disability Medicine".

The new curriculum mandates that doctors should describe disability as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Section 47(1)(b) of the RPWD Act 2016 also says disability should be a component of education courses at schools and colleges, while Section 39(2)(d) specifies that orientation and sensitisation towards disability and people with disabilities should be a part of university and professional training.

Various studies show that a disability-centered approach in medical education plays a big role in building greater empathy. There is a need to train health professionals in skills beyond technical competence.

"What we realised during the focused group discussions with Doctors with Disabilities was that no one was listening to them, says Dr Amir Khan Maroof, Associate professor, Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences and a member of Medical Humanities Group, which was involved in framing the competencies.

"It was in listening to them that we developed the competencies. They were sharing their lived experiences and that made us realise that they should be the one teaching us. The medical curriculum must reflect that, and disability competencies will help change the picture".

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