Thursday, October 16, 2008

Our First Project: Workshop for Medical Professionals

I have returned to the United States and spent the last few weeks thinking about what steps our organization needs to take to make an effective start. We met with several interesting and important people and I have an idea of what role I would like them to play in the next few years. We raised over $12,000 on August 23rd. How will we spend the money?

I was walking down Valencia street in San Francisco and saw a man and his son carrying their suitcases and a few personal items down the street with no clear destination. The man was extremely drunk and yelling about how he hated this country. Even though I have really appreciated the United States since my visit to India, Americans are all having some a tough time right now. The son seemed distant but continued to hush his father again and again. "At least we are alive" hissed the father at his dismissive son. The son, who could not have been older that 16, looked at his father and calmly said "living and surviving are two different things." Pretty smart kid.

While I have had the opportunity to live my life, many people I came into contact with in India seemed to only be surviving. They are just getting by with very few options. I think this is a product of globalization and lack of regulation, but one that there is no easy solution to.

The situation in India is not easy to understand. One obvious thing that seems to be missing from the process is diagnosis. Very few Indian workers are diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. Most states have not diagnosed a single case of silicosis or asbestosis. Medical professionals simply do not know how to diagnose most occupational lung disease. Workers are given a diagnosis of TB which does not have the necessary repercussions on employers who do not follow health standards. After a board meeting yesterday it was decided that the first program undertaken by Work-to-Live will be the establishment of a workshop for medical professionals in India. We hope to provide them with the tools necessary to diagnose occupational lung disease in their communities.

Dr. John Parker and Dr. David Weill have already agreed to participate. Dr. T. K. Joshi has agreed to be the point person in India. The plan right now is to have it in Jaipur some time in April 2009. The event will focus on basic diagnostic techniques and methodology. I plan to get a questionnaire to medical professionals who might attend to assess their level of experience and understanding of the issues. This will help our doctors provide information on the subject areas that are of most importance.

The experience I had in India was incredibly useful for the future of the organization. While this issue is complicated, and workers we met will not be living instead of just surviving overnight, there are simple things we can do to drastically improve the situation. Systems like workers compensation are already in place. The huge thing missing is the diagnosis. It is also a problem of awareness. It is difficult for an employer to notice a problem unless his workers are being diagnosed properly with occupational health diseases from workplace exposure. From my five weeks in India it is clear doctors to give their patients better treatment is an excellent investment.

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