India: The Healing Mission

Catholic nuns, who play a major role in the Church’s healthcare works in India, plan to meet the poor and weak at their doorsteps instead of waiting for them at hospitals and dispensaries.

The paradigm shift aims to reposition the Catholic health ministry by helping women religious review their works and adapt according to the demands of modern challenges, says Father Mathew Abraham, a physician who heads the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), the largest association of Catholic health workers in the country.

For this, CHAI has recently conducted three-month training programs for women religious engaged in healthcare mission to help them review their charism and rediscover their relevance in the emerging context of India so that they can become “community health enablers.”

The training programme held at the CHAI headquarters of in Hyderabad, southern India, was attended by 61 sister nurses from 28 congregations.

Father Abraham noted that women’s religious congregations manage more than 90 percent of the Catholic healthcare facilities in India, especially in the rural areas. Repositioning of the Catholic health ministry will enable the sister-nurses to reach out to people at their doorsteps, instead of waiting for them to come to her health centre, the priest physician explained.

At present, 45,943 religious women serve the poor in India through hospitals, dispensaries and other health centres, especially in remote villages, adds the priest, a member of Redemptorist order. He said since October 2015, when they began the training programme, at least 34 major religious congregations have committed to strengthening their healthcare service to the country.

India has 125,000 religious women, according to Sister Rita Pinto, president of the women’s wing of the Conference of Religious India.

So far, 1,721 people – 145 provincials, 798 councillors and 777 administrators — attended consultations at various levels. They represented a total of 38,336 sisters, 7,244 sister-nurses, and 363 sister doctors from 165 provinces, Father Abraham added.

Such efforts are necessary to the growing health care needs of the country, where millions of people struggle to get quality medical care. The country, he added, has an abysmal record in public health. At present, it spends a little over 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Products on public healthcare, one of the lowest in the world.

Poor health and steep costs alone have pushed 3 to 5 percent of the population below the poverty line. Families in villages spent more than a quarter of their income on health expenses. They either borrow money from loan sharks or sell their assets to raise the money, the priest said.

India’s disease burden – borne mainly by the poor – is higher than in many emerging economies. Quality state-run hospitals are few and far between, primary care facilities are poor and private clinics are prohibitively expensive.

In the backdrop of these abysmal realities, Catholic hospitals and health centres render healthcare services to the poor in most remote areas as filling the gap to a certain extent, the CHAI chief claimed while presenting the ‘Action Plan 2020’ evolved out of the participatory Strategic Planning Process.

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