CMC Council Meetings Report by David Runia

Report on Council meeting January 2020
by. Prof. David Runia

Stephen, Chellam and I travelled to Vellore from 27 to 31 January, where we attended the Annual General Meeting of the Christian Medical College Vellore Association. It was the first time that I had attended a Council meeting.  The following report contains some of the impressions that I gained during this visit.

The Council meeting

 On Thursday 30 January we spent the whole day attending the AGM. It was excellently chaired by the new chairman of Council, Mr Barkos Warjri, the former Chief secretary of the predominantly Christian North-Eastern Indian state of Meghalaya, ably assisted by the secretary, Dr Solomon Sathishkumar. After devotions, the director, Dr J V Peter, presented his report, using his PowerPoint skills to give a remarkably thorough overview of the state of the College and Hospitals largely by means of pictures and graphs. Next there was a long discussion on revising the constitution, followed by a series of reports by members of the administration. Among these were detailed accounts of the progress of the two campuses at Chittoor and Kannigapuram. The standard of the reporting and the efficiency of the various processes that the reports described were most impressive.

My impression is that under the leadership of Dr J V Peter the institution is moving along rather well. The transition from the previous leadership group has now been completed and the difficulties resulting from the enormous expansion of the medical facilities are being surmounted, both as regards finances and the planning and the execution of the complex processes involved. I am sure that down the track, when it is possible to look back on the present time, it will be recognised that this was a crucial period in the institution?s history.

Unfortunately, we did not attend the session on Friday 31st as we joined the other FOV delegates visiting the Chittoor and Kannigapuram campuses. Afterwards Hugh Skeil filled us on the discussion relating to the admission process. I have included it as an appendix to this report.

The Friends of Vellore groups

 A real highlight of the trip was the time spent with representatives from the other international Friends of Vellore groups. We met together on the day of our arrival in Vellore, Tuesday 28 January. Five groups were represented: USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, and Australia. The USA operation, Vellore Christian Medical College Foundation, is on a much larger scale than the others. It has built up a very considerable endowment, the revenue of which is easily able to support a staff of four people to underwrite successful fund-raising initiatives. The chair, Dr Philip Ninan, gave an excellent presentation in which he explained the many facets of their support for the CMC, which include giving valuable advice on how it could develop its research efforts. Their annual donation is of the order of US$1.4M. The UK has a more modest outfit. Its enthusiastic young secretary, Ruth Tuckwell, was present. She works two days a week in a paid role and organises various friend- and fund-raising ventures. The UK supports the CMC to the tune of about $600K. The German and Swedish groups are much smaller and contribute correspondingly lesser amounts. But their representatives were enthusiastic about continuing their work. They asked whether they could also be included when joint gifts from multiple FOVs are organised, as has occurred more than once recently.

Following the above meeting we were joined by JVP and other senior staff from the faculty. There were many presentations by different departments which have benefited by the donations from the FOV groups in the recent past, updating us on various ongoing projects. It was great to get feedback from the recipients.

It was apparent to us all that the CMC really values the role that the FOVs play. It has deep historical roots. But it is also valued for what they can contribute in the present. The financial support that they furnish is very much appreciated. It enables projects to be taken on and paid for which otherwise would not happen.

We also realised that Australian FOV make a special contribution through our initiatives and leadership we have been able to wield among the international FOV groups to a certain extent. It is heartening that not only the FOVs but also the staff at CMC give importance to our ideas and the suggestions made during our meeting.

It was also very enjoyable to get to know the other FOV representatives better during the two day-length excursions that we went on together.

I should add that the work of the FOVs is well supported by the Development office. Hugh Skeil has the support of the Director and has now been given three new staff members to increase the outreach to alumni and friends.

Visits and excursions

 My first visit on the day of our arrival in Vellore was to the Principal, Professor Anna Pulimood. I had the opportunity to discuss with her regarding the Gault Trust and its future.

On the same day I was taken to the offices of the Distance learning Department in the Vellore town. The Victorian FOV had been supporting the work done by them over the years. There I was warmly welcomed by the three staff members who explained the magnificent work they do with limited resources to improve medical knowledge and expertise in remote areas. The Victorian FOV through the help of generous donors has raised upwards of $40K for the Community Lay-leaders Health Training Certificate course (CLHTC).

The next morning a group of FOV delegates travelled to the Jawadhi hills accompanied by the leader of the development project, the remarkable Dr Anu Rose. It was a bone-shaking journey of 62 km over very poor roads, a trip that CMC staff have to make sometimes as often as three times a week. Anu outlined the mission to the tribal people in this area, which combines developmental and medical work. We visited two villages, one where the work was just starting, the other where it was very successful and had resulted in a ?model village.  On our visit to the Medical clinic, where it was very busy, I met three young women (pictured) who were now working as health worker collecting data among the tribespeople. They had received their training in Vellore with the help of scholarships such as those facilitated by the FOVV and the AVB. I did not see the four-wheel drive vehicle that had been donated to the project by the AVB, but now understood the circumstances in which such a vehicle was a necessity.

On Friday we visited the Chittoor and Kannigapuram campuses. Chittoor is an hour?s drive up the highway to the border of Andhra Pradesh, where we were given a warm welcome by the director, Dr Nihal Thomas, followed by a guided tour of the facilities. These are modest and provisional but are already intensively being used. The statistics of the number of out-patient consultations and surgeries already carried out since the start in 2016 are quite amazing. We also visited the new Nursing College at the Chittoor campus that received its first intake last November.

We spoke to Dr Vathsala Sadan, the director of the College and suggested she might consider establishing scholarships for needy students with the assistance of the AVB. We are waiting to hear from them officially.

Heading south we then took back roads that led us to the site of the Kannigapuram hospital. As we were driven to the site office we were stunned by the scale of the project. It is due to be completed by the end of June, though we did wonder how on earth it would be possible to be ready in such a short period of time. The new trauma facility, which takes up a good part of one entire wing of the building, will then open. At the same time about half the departments of the central Hospital will move to this site. We received a thorough tour of the new facilities, including state-of-the-art surgical facilities for road trauma victims in the emergency department, operating theatres (pictured), wards, ICU units and so on. It was quite overwhelming to see the vision of Dr Sunil Chandy, which he presented to us five years ago now

translated into concrete, steel, glass and plastic. The challenge the CMC is facing to get this hospital running and integrate it into the existing logistical structures is enormous. But no one doubts that the staff will achieve this and a new era in the history of the CMC will begin.

Concluding thoughts

 It was a great privilege to visit the CMC and attend the Council meeting at this vital time when the institution is busy securing its vision for the future, a vision that will enable it to escape the over-crowding of the present hospital and greatly increase the medical services that it can offer.

While the focus is above all on the projects that are being completed at the present time, it is important to remember that the CMC and its administration under the leadership of Dr J V Peter are strongly committed to continuing its mandate that was bequeathed to it by Dr Ida Scudder: ?What you are building is not a medical school (or hospital). It is the kingdom of God.? The commitment to all the other projects, many of which focus directly on the lower and lowest socio-economic strata of society, continues unabated. Moreover, finances are by no means easy at present. There will be always be worthwhile projects that fall outside the regular budget, for which funds supplied by the Friends groups can offer a solution.

So, in summary the participation of the FOVs in the life and work of the College remains very worthwhile. We can offer advice and support to the staff when called upon, we can spread the good news of the work of Vellore throughout the world, and we can facilitate projects to the disadvantaged and marginalised which would otherwise not be possible.

David Runia,
Vice president

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