Padma Shri awardee M. R. Rajagopal, the father of palliative care in India, made an impassioned appeal to improve healthcare in India, and the call was not only to the medical fraternity, but to the community at large.

The founder-chairman of Pallium India, a palliative care nongovernmental organization based in Kerala, said that though medical science has improved tremendously, statistics throw up a dismal scenario: Over 26,000 people commit suicide because of healthrelated reasons, 55 million Indians are driven below the poverty line by catastrophic health expenditure, and palliative care reaches only 2 percent of those who need it.

“We have to transform healthcare,” Dr. Rajagopal said. “We need a new normal.” And that can happen only when the community chips in, he added.

To illustrate his point, he recounted an incident that left the audience moved. Three years back on World Palliative Care Day, Pallium volunteers decided to give a treat to homebound people. They arranged an evening by the seaside. But every wheelchair-bound person needed four able-bodied men to bring them from their homes to the Shankhumugham beach by a vehicle. There were 40 such people, needing 160 volunteers. It seemed difficult, but two phone calls to local engineering colleges saw 160 young men going to various parts of Thiruvananthapuram and its suburbs and bringing people to the beach.

Dr. Rajagopal said, “A paraplegic girl with a spine injury, who doesn’t have normal sensation in the feet, said, ‘The waves touching my feet was the best experience I have had in my whole life.’ Is that healthcare? If health is physical, social and mental well-being, that's the pinnacle of healthcare. Doctors and nurses couldn't have achieved what those engineering students did.”

This thought is echoed in the Astana Declaration on Universal Health Coverage when nations got together in 2018 to come out with a pledge that “Health for all has to be health with all.” Meaning, it was important to include people in designing and controlling systems.

Dr. Rajagopal said that his organization had a foothold in 20 states, but had got there only because of the sincerity and commitment of those involved. However, this alone was not enough. “This cannot go on. If we are to make significant progress, we need you to hold our hand. We cannot afford professional managers. If we get together, we can transform India into a healthy India,” he concluded.