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Doctor who brought emergency medicine to India honoured

Last updated on: April 21, 2008 18:50 IST

Senior United States Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was on hand to cheer Dr Subramanium Balasubramanium on receiving the American Medical Association's highest honour for international humanitarian services.

Dr Balasubramanium, immediate past president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, was awarded the AMA's Dr Nathan Davis International Award on March 31 for his work in India in helping to institute emergency medical services and trauma centers, at a gala banquet at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

The annual award honours a single physician who has dramatically furthered health information, medical practice and research worldwide.

Dr Balasubramanium is the Chief Physician at the Department of Health Services in Los Angeles County and Medical Coordinator of the Utilisation Review in the County.

Royce, former GOP co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, spoke of first meeting Dr Balasubramanium during a visit to India, as the head of a Congressional delegation in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.

Describing how he found Dr Balasubramanium involved in on-the-ground relief work, Royce said, "I can attest to not only his esteemed medical career, but also his dedication to humanitarian causes. Like so many in the Indian-American community, Dr Bala worked tirelessly to bring relief to the millions affected by the Gujarat earthquake and other natural disasters. I can't think of a worthier recipient."

AMA Foundation President Dr Barbara Rockett, in introducing the awardee, said, "Dr Bala is known to many simply as the father of emergency medical services in India." In spelling out the rationale behind the award, Dr Rockett spoke of how Dr Bala had used established American training institute life support programmes and formal paramedic training institute courses to set up fully functional EMSs in many cities in India.

She also cited, "Dr Bala's work in disaster management after the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat and the establishment of the trainers' programme in disaster management for administrators in India, which saved numerous lives when the tsunami struck India's shores four years later.'

Dr Balasubramanium thanked those who had worked with him to realise the dream: "The medical institutions and key trauma and critical care doctors in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat for accepting in toto and implementing the medical management system based on the US prototype; the state and local governments, leading private organisations like the Hinduja Hospital Group, Symbiosis University and Satyam Computers through their not for profit medical research institutions, to name a few, who believed in the system, supported the concept, which was new to India.'

The project, he said, was still in a nascent stage. "Standards have to be set, quality and performance measures need to be instituted, and the system must be established across the length and breadth of India."

He said what EMS in India needs today "is what Dr Nathan Davis called for and established in medical education over 150 years ago — uniform and elevated standard. Tonight the AMA Foundation, through this award, while recognizing the work done so far, is giving us a shot in the arm to complete it. We will do that."

Dr Balasubramanium also lauded the public sector, saying that "Four years ago, the city of Ahmedabad resolved that every citizen of their city will be entitled to free emergency medical care and they have done this to date, and eighteen months ago, the central government of India allocated over $250 million for the establishment of formal trauma centers along the newly constructed highways."

He also thanked former AAPI president Dr Navin Shah for conceiving of these EMS and trauma centers, finding the funding for them from the private sector, bringing him in on the project. Dr Shah won the India Abroad Award for Community Service, held on March 28, for his role in setting up EMS services in India.

Thanking his family for their support, Dr Balasubramanium rounded off with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Besides Dr Balasubramanium, who received the event's marquee award, other Indian-American physicians were honoured at the event including Dr Murli Manohar of Canton, Ohio, who was one of the three physicians named for the Pride in Profession Award.

Dr Manohar had established the Canton Community Clinic, which provides free primary medical care to indigent patients, and has also been responsible for helping to shape many medical laws and public policy in health care in Ohio.

Dr Hridaush Singh and Dr Neeral Singh were among 13 recipients of the Leadership Awards presented to medical students, residents and fellows; Dr Bob Basu of Houston, Dr Srinivas Mukkamala of Flint, Michigan, Dr Sheetal Shah from New York and Dr Asha Subramanium of Kensington, Maryland, were among the 14 winners of the Early Career Physician Awards.

Seven of 14 Established Physicians Awards went to Indian Americans, including past president of AAPI Dr Satya Ahuja of Chicago; Dr Vijayalakshmi Appareddy, past chair of AAPI's Board of Trustees, of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dr Rakesh Chandra Bhan from Battle Creek, Michigan; Dr Meena Chintapalli from San Antonio, Texas; Dr Asit Gokli from Livonia, Michigan; Dr Mahesh Gupta from Riverside, California; and Dr Narendra Kumar from Saginaw, Michigan.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington