CHENNAI: Historian V Sriram’s talk on Monday at the Press Institute in Taramani as part of the Madras Week celebrations was a delightful look at the city’s evolution as the medicare capital of the country. Titled ‘The medicare history of Madras’, the 60-minute talk was peppered with stories from the corridors of some of the oldest and finest medicare institutions in the country.
Most of the biggest strides the city has witnessed in terms of mental health care have been taken by women, he said, be it organisations like SNEHA, SCARF, The Banyan, or doctors like Suniti Solomon who brought issues like AIDS awareness and treatment to the fore. These institutions are shaping the city’s medicare history.
It came as no surprise that most of the English hospitals in Madras were out of bounds for Indians earlier. The Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH), known as Government Hospital then, was the oldest hospital in the city, dating back to 1664. It was only after 1842 that Indians were permitted as patients. Meanwhile, various communities ran their own hospitals.
“People began taking treatment at these hospitals only from the 1870s,” he said. “There were a lot of community nursing homes and hospitals, which were out-patient facilities run by Tamil Chettiyars, Gujaratis, Marwaris, Jains and Christian missionaries. While the English were running a parallel system, somewhere along the way the two merged with enormous benefit for the city.”
He said, one of the doctors who worked at the RGGGH during the 1690s, Edward Bulkley, performed the country’s first post-mortem. This took place when his colleague told him that he had killed his patient. Only upon investigating was it found that the compounder had mixed the medicine in a vessel used to powder arsenic.
Through intriguing, amusing and thought-provoking anecdotes, Sriram kept the audience engaged as he meandered through the medicare hotspots in the city. He covered everything from the RGGGH to Egmore Maternity Hospital and Sankara Nethralaya. He spoke about the Perambur Railway Hospital, which has produced some of the best cardiac specialists and surgeons, thus paving the way for Chennai to become the hub for cardiac treatment in the country. He went on to emphasise the coming of Apollo Hospitals as a game-changer.
“Apollo Hospitals beginning operations was a turning point in the medicare history of the city and the country,” he said. “While privatisation of hospitals and medical education is debated, there is no denying that Apollo Hospitals raised the bar and forced other hospitals to match the quality that it was offering.”