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Health train takes epilepsy treatment to villages
Sasaram/New Delhi, Mar 17 (IANS)
Published on 18 Mar. 2010 12:04 AM IST
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When the health train chugged to a halt at Sasaram station in Bihar, there was a doctor on board to treat a condition that villagers had given up hope of ever finding a cure for - epilepsy, a neurological disorder that affects 10 million people in India. The doctor, Mamta Bhushan Singh, assistant professor in the department of neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), saw around 180 patients at Sasaram during the around two days she spent as part of the Lifeline Express, the world’s first hospital on a train, which stopped at Sasaram last month. The AIIMS doctor was the first expert the villagers had ever met to treat epilepsy, leaving it earlier to faith healers and quacks. “Barely any of the epilepsy patients in Sasaram was on any treatment other than faith healing!” Singh told IANS. The people were so happy to get good doctors to treat them - a rare occurrence in rural India - that none of the patients or their families left the station while the train was parked there. They didn’t want to miss meeting the doctor. The Lifeline Express, run by the non-profit organisation Impact India Foundation, has doctors to treat disablities like cleft lip and to perform cataract surgeries, free of cost. It expanded its medical services to treat epilepsy over a year ago and Singh is invited to come on board whenever the train embarks on a healing journey. Speaking of her interaction with the patients and their families, Singh said she begins by trying to overcome their embarassment about speaking of their health condition. “This invariably would get some of them sobbing while relating the symptoms of their kin, while some parents would ask in hushed voices, ‘How will I get my epilepsy-afflicted daughter married?’” she said. Recounting one epilepsy case, she said there was a tribal woman in her 30s who had come to meet her with her child and her elderly mother. The woman and her child had been abandoned by her husband because of uncontrolled epilepsy and her widowed mother was very poor. Singh gave the woman medicines from the stock she carries on such journeys. But what happens after the medicine stock finishes? Where do the patients get their medicine from since epilepsy requires continuous treatment for a long duration. “I wish the government could have a programme to provide assistance for continuing medical cover to such patients. Almost every day, I think of the woman and what she will do once her free medicine samples are over,” she said. Singh said she is trying to link up with neurologists in different cities who would act as volunteers and be there at the station when the train visits - coordinating at the local level with her efforts. Another aim is to push for the setting up of small clinics in villages where epilepsy patents can be treated and get medicines free. “It is no fault of a child with epilepsy that he or she is born in a village. The medicines are affordable,” she said, adding, “At least 50 percent and as much as 75 percent of patients in the country can be treated with one medicine.” “The treatment gap in epilepsy, which means patients not getting treatment or getting inadequate treatment, is huge - around 70-90 percent. This is a dismal state of affairs,” said Singh. Singh has earlier been with the train to Piardoba in West Bengal’s Bishnupur, where many patients approached her for treatment. She is now trying to set up a database of patients, with their names and addresses, to follow up cases and also a system where patients can make a call to a single number for assistance when required. The well-equipped train stops at Dabra, Madhya Pradesh, next week. The Lifeline Express was launched on July 16, 1991. The train has designed air-conditioned coaches, a surgical operation theatre along with three operating tables, a sterilising room, patient wards, on-board power generators, pantry car, storeroom for medical provisions and lodging for medical staff.

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