By Alison Ramsey
IAHPC Newsletter Editor
An associate professor of pain and palliative medicine at the MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Center in Hyderabad, India, Dr. Gayatri Palat was instrumental in establishing the Department of Palliative Care within the institute by developing clinical services—including outpatient, inpatient, and home-based care—as well as training programs.
A fuller list of her major accomplishments (in the colored text box) is testament to her persistence, a quality of which the International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care is well aware, as she has also been one of our most loyal members. Dr. Palat joined IAHPC in December 2008: only one other person has been a continuous dues-paying member for longer.
“When I joined,” she recalls, “there was no palliative care in the state. To date, we are one of the few states in India with a palliative care program. Now, we have extensive home-based and hospice programs for both adults and children in every district.”
Despite her achievements, Dr. Palat is clearly not complacent.
In a recent conversation with IAHPC Executive Director Liliana De Lima and Senior Advocacy and Partnerships Director Katherine Pettus, she was asked the key ingredient in building the relationships that have led to establishing and extending palliative care in India and beyond—and what her next steps will be.
“There were years of work, consistently not giving up, and a few other things that really helped us,” said Dr. Palat. “My work with an NGO organization, the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research, showcased both what was needed and what was possible. Showcasing a good program was an important aspect: we could say. ‘Wow, it works! Let’s try it elsewhere.’
“The second thing was working within the system, and a critical step was understanding that social scientists have a role to play. The program had to be sustainable within the public health system. However much you work with an NGO, they cannot accomplish that step. You have to reach out.
“The third thing was the importance of partnerships. We received a small seed grant, but collaboration and partnerships made it have a large-scale effect.”
“Now, we need to do an evaluation of programs within the public health system. For example, I feel great about the children’s program, but what is the impact? What is the need? Is it worth putting so much money into it? Not many programs are exclusive to children in India.
“The pediatric palliative care we see is not standard: we see patients who are much beyond the textbook description. They are not at the traditional ‘end-of-life,’ but these are children who are suffering.”
Dr. Palat sees many opportunities for future advocacy, both near and far. “I am particularly interested in activities related to improving access to opioid medications,” she says, “and standardization of training programs in developing countries.”
To learn more about MNJ Institute of Oncology & Regional Cancer Centre, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Pain Relief Palliative Care Society, Indian Association for Palliative Care’s (IAPC), or Pain and Palliative Care Society visit the IAHPC Global Directory of Palliative Care Institutions and Organizations.
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