I visited several hospitals in Kolkata on 19th October. This was something I had always wanted to do, but the opportunity had never presented itself. I’m very grateful to Dr Dipanjana Dutta, Genetic Counsellor at the Institute of Child Health, and State Coordinator for the Organization of Rare Diseases India (ORDI), for organising my visits to the centres. Although my visit was in an independent capacity, not sponsored by ORDI, Dipanjana gave unstintingly of her time.
As with much of India, healthcare in West Bengal features a universal healthcare system, run by the state and central governments. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of the Government of West Bengal is responsible for administering and funding the public hospital system in the state. The entire state population is covered by a health insurance, either provided by their employer or the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) scheme. Other categories of people (low-income, self-employed, the unemployed or the retired etc.) are covered under the state’s public health insurance scheme (Swasthya Sathi).
We first visited the Institute of Child Health, the premier children’s hospital in Kolkata and the first of its kind in India (https://www.ichcalcutta.org/). We met Dr Apurba Ghosh, the Director of the Institute and the doyen of paediatrics in Bengal. Dipanjana took me around the hospital, and we then went to the lecture theatre where I gave a talk on the clinical management of mucopolysaccharidoses.
From the ICH we went to the Institute of Fetal Medicine (https://ifmkolkata.co.in/), where we met Dr Kushagradhi Ghosh, Consultant in Fetal Medicine. Dr Ghosh has a well-established setup in a purpose-built building that is ideal for a multidisciplinary team or clinic. It would be very suitable for an LSD MDT clinic. Dr Ghosh was very receptive to the idea and certainly this is something that should be pursued.
Our last stop was at Apollo Hospital, were we met Dr, Anjan Bhattacharya, a developmental paediatrician, and his colleague, Dr Tamal Laha. Dr Bhattcharya has established a service for children with autism and cerebral palsy over the last 15 years. He heads a multidisciplinary team of physiotherapists, occupational therapist and speech and language therapists, and vision therapists. Every child who is referred is carefully assessed over a period of 7-10 days, at the end of which a comprehensive report is produced for the parents. This is an outstanding model of a multidisciplinary team, and its principles can be applied to other areas, including of course LSDs. Dr Bhattacharya is planning to roll this out to other Apollo hospitals around the country.
Of the three hospitals we visited, the Institute of Child Health is run by a trust, and Apollo is of course private. However, both are covered by the Swasthya Sathi, so patients having this get free treatment. The Institute of Fetal Medicine is classified as a nursing home and is not covered.
Unfortunately I was unable to visit any of the government hospitals, such as the Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research and SSKM Hospital, which has been designated as a Centre of Excellence under the National Rare Diseases Policy. This was largely due to bad timing on my part; I had opted to visit during the Durga Pooja festival, and a lot of staff were on holiday. Hopefully I will get the chance to go back some time.