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Sambhavna Trust Clinic: A decade of healing in Bhopal

Shashikant Trivedi  |  Bhopal 

Last week, the Government of India announced plans to set up a Commission on Bhopal to take care of rehabilitation of people in terms of health,

The move is coming 24 years after the worst industrial disaster in Indian history at the site of Union Carbide chemical plant, which claimed 20,000 lives and has since continued to cause unrecorded harm to people there.

But in Bhopal a group of doctors, social workers and philanthropists have been running the Sambhavna clinic to help the survivors of the Bhopal tragedy through alternative medicine.

The clinic has stood out over the years as a pillar of hope even as the state health department was gaining noterieity for corruption and mismanagement.

On May 30, when the Income tax department was conducting another spell of raids at residences of bigwigs of Madhya Pradesh health department, a weekly meeting of health workers of Sambhavna Trust Clinic was also going on.

The health workers were planning strategies to encourage survivors of Bhopal Gas Tragedy to join yoga sessions at the clinic premises.

The staff of clinic has been exploring possibilities of providing relief to gas victims through alternative therapy, ayurveda, non-chemical home-grown non-synthetic medicines and yoga.

For, most of the survivors have already consumed plenty of synthetic medicines. Besides, the poor survivors cannot afford even a single dose of medicines prescribed by doctors at government run 'medical-facility-proof' hospitals.

Rupa Baddi "" a young Ayurvedic medical professional from South "" is oblivious of the ongoing IT raids in the city. She was eagerly attending the poor and needy patients at her clinic in Sambhavna Trust in Bhopal.

A graduate from Karnataka University, she had resigned from a lucrative government job in capacity of medical officer in Hubli to render services to the needy and the poor. She feels happy at work on a wider platform where she can testify her professional acumen.

She hardly has any idea what exactly had happened in Union Carbide India Limited premises on December 2/3 1984 in Bhopal or who is responsible for making Bhopal a Hiroshima of industrial disaster that had claimed more than 20,000 lives.

But she is eager to diagnose the root cause of agonies and ailments of those who had been exposed to MIC gas (mythilisocyanate) on that day. The survivors otherwise have to buy costly medicines besides facing harassment at government hospitals.

Biju, another ayurvedic medical professional (physiotherapist) from Kerala, is anxious to start mandatory yoga session for the clinic staff afresh so that patients can get motivated. Biju and the entire staff are more concerned since their colleague and managing trustee of the clinic Satinath Sarangi is in Delhi to fight for the rights of survivors.

Eleven years ago, he joined Sambhavna only to leave after a short stint but now he is more engaged in developing simple devices that not only help him performing "Panchkarma" (the body purification therapy expounded in Ayurveda) but also give relief to his patients who had been otherwise advised critical surgeries.

Even after 24 years of the disaster, hundreds of patients with bundles of reports of pathological and haematological changes visit Sambhavna clinic, which is tucked away in shanties, slums and narrow lanes of the walled city.

It now raises new hopes among those who are hoping against hope to get themselves purified from all doshas (toxins) of the poisonous gas (methyl isocyanate), which they had inhaled in 1984 after the leak from the Carbide plant.

However, the doctors, physiotherapist and ayurvedic medical professionals still have a herculean task of diagnosing the root cause of the disease with limited resources. In case of emergencies they are helpless. The clinic has to depend upon nearby government hospitals for even a simple ultrasound scanning .

All the five regular medical professionals in the clinic gladly attend almost 250 patients each day within three morning hours. While, three other specialists visit the clinic twice a week.

Albeit most of the patients are regular and the clinic registers only gas victims on the basis of a ration card or Tata Survey (certificate), which was conducted years ago new cases are on the rise.

The staff is now equipped with data, details of ailments, available medical history and medicines prescribed to the survivors in the past. "Abdomen pain, and several other alimentary disorders are common among the survivors since they have no option but to drink toxic water supplied to them," says

"Very few of us know that disaster in Bhopal continues and thousands of survivors of the disaster are still chronically ill, thousands of children, who were born after the disaster suffer from growth problems, mental disorders, respiratory problems but we cannot lose hopes. We are working on alternative medicines."

Established in 1996, Sambhavna is increasingly resistant to chemicals and synthetic medicines. Even toilet cleaners are non-toxic, non-chemical and are made from locally available materials like gur (jaggary) and neem etc. It also has its own pathological lab, small pharmaceutical (ayurvedic) unit and a garden of medicinal plants.

Even after 24 years of the disaster, hundreds of people visit Sambhavna with complaints of chest pain, breathlessness, eye-burn, skin disorders and abdomen pain.

A number of them have exhausted thousands of their hard-earned money in vain in government hospital and private clinics.

About 160 people get treated here every day, says Satinath Sarangi, who started it in 2008 with other likeminded persons.

(48), a maiden visitor to the trust clinic, says her acute problems of chest pain and body-pain have become chronic and persistent for the last four years. She also has an increased level of sugar.

After consulting several doctors and experts, she has been advised to consult Sambhavna. She says she wants to try yoga and ayurvedic medicines at Sambhavna. Her husband Rajjan, a street vendor, has pinned his all hopes on Sambhavna.

"Jab gas lagi thi tab itni bimar nahi thi. Pichhle char saal se tabiyat kharab hona shuru hui hai...angreji davayon se koi fayda nahi hai ab hum ilaj ka kharch nahi utha sakte, (when she was exposed to gas she was okay but for the last four years she is not feeling well. Allopathic medicine are ineffective and we also cannot afford bills)," he says.

Sambhavna has one gynecologist, Devinder Kaur, and three ayurvedic medical professionals who work in unison to diagnose the disease at micro level. Kaur is anxious about abnormal problems in women below 35 years of age.

"Early menopause, menstrual disorders, infertility, excessive discharge and even cervical cancer are now common among surviving women," she says, "Fibrosis of the lungs, reproductive toxicity among women are common who were exposed to MIC."

She did her graduation from Gandhi Medical College Bhopal years ago. She left the job of research fellow to a project of Indian Council of Medical Research and joined Sambhavna few years back.

She regularly participates in yoga and also trusts in alternative medicines and therapy. "Patients, who are not responding to synthetic medicines are now responding to alternate medicines and traditional therapy like Panchkarma and yoga," she adds.

Her colleague Rupa says, "A lot of research work is needed on Bhopal. It is tough to diagnose if a particular symptom developed in a patient years after the disaster is due to toxin present in the body or due to aging, irregular eating habits, unhygienic conditions. The survivors come here with common symptoms like burning sensation in eyes, headache, heart-burn etc., and complicated problems like renal disorders, high blood pressure, thyroid, hemorrhoids and nervous system disorders and respiratory problems. Most of them have been treated for the last 24 years but their sufferings are unending. Fortunately people are encouragingly responding to alternative medicines, Panchakarma and yoga."

Though, Sambhavna is a charitable trust funded by donors from the US, the UK, and writer Dominic Lapier's funds and run by a group of eminent doctors, scientists, writers and social workers, in absence of data, earlier health records, patients history (most of them are in the possession of government officials) and sufficient equipment the Sambhavna has a daunting task to discover a new dimension of hope for the survivors.

The lethal toxic MIC has made haematological changes in survivors' blood but a third spell of Income Tax department raid conducted on health department heavyweights has revealed that those who are responsible for ensuring medicine supply to the poor are more lethal than the MIC that has poisoned their blood.

And Sambhavna has no alternative therapy for the ailing system. However, a very poor survivor Laika Munni has a rich answer, "Ummeed par dunia kayam hai" (Trust on Sambhavna).

www.bhopal.org

First Published: Tue, June 10 2008. 00:00 IST
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