By Rahul Kumar
New Delhi, July 2: During India's devastating second wave of Covid-19 in 2021, the world joined hands to support India during its dark days. Medical equipment came pouring into the country from a concerned world. One of the benefactors was the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) that reached out to India through a massive effort that spanned fund-raising, purchasing medical equipment, arranging logistics and dealing with unforeseen hurdles through lock-downs.
In the end, BAPIO ensured support to people as well as doctors battling on the frontline of Covid-19.
Professor J.S. Bamrah CBE, BAPIO Chairman and senior consultant psychiatrist, tells India Narrative that the organisation's profile has gone up considerably as various medical bodies in the UK seek out BAPIO for professional advice.
The largest body for Indian doctors in the UK, BAPIO has widened its sphere to address concerns of Indian nurses and pharmacists. BAPIO, which was established in 1996 to support Indian doctors working at the UK's National Health Service (NHS) has maintained strong links with Indian institutes.
Excerpts from the interview.
IN: What are the doctors advising their patients about the changing nature of Covid-19? Are we out of the woods yet?
Prof Bamrah: We are telling our patients that this is a recurring crisis. We are not out of Covid yet.
I think global pandemics will come and go; therefore, we need a global strategy and international cooperation on a global scale. And we have to frame a global response now.
We also want the World Health Organisation (WHO) to share information and warnings in a timely manner. The assistance that it provided during the Covid-19 crisis was woefully inadequate. News about the virus was known to people in November 2019, but WHO alerted us only in January 2020 and by March 2020 the virus had spread widely.
If we get the information on time, we can prevent the loss of jobs and lives.
To be prepared for the future, we need effective medicine, vaccines and a healthier population. We know vaccines are effective and we know how they work. But we still need to do more research on the full extent of side-effects of vaccines and also ascertain which vaccines are more effective among which groups of people.
IN: BAPIO had done extensive work during the Covid-19 situation in India. Can you tell us what was the extent and kind of support you provided to India?
Prof Bamrah: For India, it was a devastating Covid-19 wave. We had great concern about Mother India, partly because we are Indian doctors. Separately, we were concerned because we have families in India and, therefore, we were motivated to do something.
BAPIO launched the 'Go to Fund' appeal and raised ?230,000 worth of equipment. Most of the donations came from the British people. Equipment that we sent to India included oxygen concentrators, ventilators, pulse oximeters and masks. We also fed hungry people through Akshaya Patra charity and Udhavum Karangal.
We worked with a number of charities and organisations in the UK. These included, Wigan hospital due to the generosity of Prof. Sanjay Arya, the charity Hope2Sleep and CREO Medical. We were also supported by APNA NHS, Doctors Association UK and Qatar airlines.
Our President Dr Ramesh Mehta OBE drove the India appeal for funds.
To ensure that the equipment was distributed in India, we teamed up with the Mukul Madhav Foundation which is a registered charity in both countries-India and the UK, as well as Ashok Leyland. All of this was underpinned by our collaboration with the Indian government. We ensured that everything was transported to Mumbai and then sent across to government hospitals and selected charitable hospitals. Our equipment went to at least 19 sites across the country.
Then we noticed that even the doctors were falling ill because of Covid, so we also started the tele-medicine support through which we checked radiology and pathology reports.
BAPIO has been involved in many charity appeals, but this was the most complex project because the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest medical humanitarian crisis of our times. Our President and the Executive team worked flat out to deliver well needed aid.
IN: People have already seen the debilitating effects of Covid. What are the health problems that are likely to emerge in the future?
Prof Bamrah: We know that climate change will pose a big health challenge. WHO says that there could be 250,000 excess deaths due to climate change every year between 2030-2050. We have to act now on environmental pollution and health problems related to climate change.
I also foresee mental health problems on the rise. Mental disease is a hidden pandemic. Suicides are increasing and so are depression, psychosis, and dementia.
IN: Indian doctors in the UK and the US are greatly admired for their contribution to patient care. How has BAPIO as a collective contributed to the British society?
Prof Bamrah: I would say that the contribution of South Asian doctors-Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi, is immense and that includes their role in the setting up of the NHS in 1948. It is possible the NHS might not have existed if the doctors of South Asian origin were not active at that time.
The British doctors resisted the formation of the NHS as they thought they would lose private practice. Since then, in the last 74 years of NHS there has been a rich history of Indian doctors contributing to some great advancements in research and education.
BAPIO works with a number of NHS trusts. We worked with the Government of Scotland and presented evidence to the Scottish parliament, and we produced a risk assessment form jointly with the Welsh government.
We were actively involved in the Covid response by NHS England.
BAPIO continues to evolve. We have started the BAPIO Training Academy and launched the 2+2 programme through our BAPIO Training Academy. Under this we support two years of training for doctors in India according to British standards, and then we bring those doctors for training to the UK-enriching their practical experience.
We have also started the British Indian Nurses Association in the UK to help and mentor Indian nurses.
Indian doctors are the second-highest in numbers after the British doctors. They also form a substantial portion of registered doctors here. Therefore, they have made a big impact in the NHS.
IN: Also, how has BAPIO contributed to the welfare of doctors in the UK?
Prof Bamrah: We have a legal arm Medical Defence Shield which gives medical indemnity to doctors by providing legal protection to them. This protection is for all doctors in the UK, not just Indian doctors.
We found that stress and burnout is a major problem among doctors. We initiated the BAPIO Welfare Forum which focuses on exposing people to yoga and meditation. Besides doctors, BAPIO is now looking after the concerns of nurses and pharmacists also.
BAPIO is connected worldwide to Indian doctors in other countries like Australia and Canada through the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO).
(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)
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