Healing Ministry of the Church in India
By Fr. Mathew Perumpil, MI
Feb 11 is celebrated as the 26th World Day of the Sick an observation introduced by Saint Pope John Paul II on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.
It is an occasion to offer prayers for all those who are sick, thank those care for the sick and reflect on the healing ministry of the Church as a powerful means of witnessing the Good News proclaimed by Jesus.
The Theme for this year’s Day of the Sick is provided by the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross to Mary, his Mother and to John: “Woman, behold your son….Behold your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26-27)
In his message Pope Francis recalls that “Healthcare ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.
We cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives.
The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies.
Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission.”
In the unique context of India, healthcare mission of the Church is at a crossroad. We have a great legacy of providing healthcare services that are affordable and compassionate with a special focus on most neglected and poor of the society. But today most of our healthcare facilities are struggling to continue this mission in the increasing corporatization of health care and the stringent regulations that make it impossible for a small health facility to serve the poorest sick.
It is opportune to look at in this context the recent announcement of the government on health coverage in the Union Health Budget for the year 2018. The government announced the new health scheme as the largest health assurance scheme ever proposed anywhere in the world.
Although the media hailed it as a great pro-poor move to improve the health of the millions of India, a close look at the details of the budget outlay and implementation plan you realize it was yet another “great announcement” without much to hope for an ordinary Indian.
The national health protection scheme is just a refurbished product in a new package. In the words of renowned public health specialist Dr. T. Sundararaman, “The funds allocated for it would not get the scheme get going on scale; that this scheme would be overlapping or even interfering with the well-established state schemes; and that though it could potentially provide wide financial protection or improved access, recent experience with similar schemes indicate that these benefits are elusive; and there are enough reasons to believe that this scheme would bring a significant increase in profits for private healthcare industry which is perhaps the intention of the scheme, and finally it could help corporate health care providers consolidate, at the cost of more affordable smaller providers in healthcare.”
In other words, this scheme is a clever way to take care of the corporate healthcare industry interests in the name of the poor than the health needs of the poor.
The Church, therefore, more than ever, has the role to be prophetic and creative to stand with the poor to help them access affordable, rational and dignified healthcare in a compassionate way. May the observance of the World Day of the Sick remind us of this vital ecclesial mission entrusted to us by the Lord.
(Fr. Mathew Perumpil, MI is the secretary, CBCI Office for Healthcare, St. Johns National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru)