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How A Doctor In Mumbai Is Helping Fight HIV And Its Stigma

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“Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very process of life, which may be understood before they may be guided.” – the Swiss scientist, Paracelsus.

Infectious disease is a broad spectrum of discussion in medical science. The geneses of this malady are microorganisms like viruses, bacterias, fungi and parasites, which are commonly called pathogens. If untreated, the pathogens mutate and metastasise in the body and can spread to another person. They can also kill the victim.

Born in Jaunpur, UP, on September 16, to his bureaucratic IRS father Premmohan Srivastav, Dr Om Shrivastav was the youngest in his family. He studied in the Hill Grange High School, Mumbai.

He wanted to be a writer, but fate willed otherwise. He landed at the Krishna Institute Of Medical Sciences, Karad. On completing his MBBS, he dared to venture into the particular areas of toxicology, HIV and infectious diseases.

He travelled to Sydney, Australia, to complete his MD (internal medicine) at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Liverpool Hospital and the Royal North Shore Hospital under the mentorship of Dr David Cooper and Dr Rosemary Munroe.

Knowing very well that this particular field wouldn’t make him wealthy, he started treating patients at a very tender age after returning from Australia.

Taking a road less travelled is always daunting. But, it’s equally rewarding when the patient is treated and cured. Dr Om’s major contribution has been in the area of immunology in treating the deadly curse of HIV/AIDS. Though India still has the third-largest number of HIV-infected people (after South Africa and Nigeria), the death toll has gone down by 58% from 2005 to 2016.

Dr Om Shrivastav (Image Source: Facebook)

On HIV, Dr Om explains : “The burden of HIV, while nowhere close to what it was, just a decade ago, is still humongous in terms of the impact on a patient’s life and well being […] Most patients with HIV, if they respond to treatment and live within a specified boundary, will have long, productive lives. I often say that patients with HIV do not die of the disease, but of shame. It is therefore crucial to have frank discussions with family members, and have a support system that allows patients to overcome the period of grief, resentment, conflict […] A substantial number require professional counseling for a significant duration. In today’s times, HIV remains a manageable disease with good outcomes.”

Not just HIV, Dr Om also treats patients with other infections such as dengue, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, swine flu, H1N1, tuberculosis, meningitis, and many more such infections. There were cases where the death of a patient seemed inevitable, but it was Om’s Brobdingnagian effort that managed to bring them back from the gallows of death.

Om’s way of treating patients doesn’t follow a stereotypical modus operandi. He doesn’t look at the patient’s earlier medical reports, nor does he wish to know the past of the patient. He prefers talking to the patient, tries to understand their psyche and then treats them accordingly. He knows that he too can contract an infection if he reaches out to a patient without any protection, but he does not care. He simply extends his compassion and treats the patient.

During his routine visits to the patients in the hospital wards and the ICU, all he does is to listen carefully to what the patient has to say. He is a person who believes in less medication, but the apt medication – depending on the patient’s response to that drug. He doesn’t believe in herculean investigations and spending money; he only asks for the tests which need to be done to treat the disease.

Many a times, it was tough for him to understand the root cause of the disease itself. In that case, he had no option but to take a chance and experiment with the medications. This proves that he is intrepid.

Though Dr Om practices in hospitals in south Mumbai (Jaslok, Saifee and Wockhardt), he has also been appointed the unit head of the government-aided Kasturba Hospital by the government of Maharashtra, after looking at his immense contribution to toxicology and in treating infectious diseases. His contributions to the medical fraternity have been featured in several newspapers – The Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, DNA and Free Press Journal, to name just a few.

Time and again, he has appealed for improvements in the rooms where people with infectious diseases are treated – since he believes that a healthy atmosphere can cure a patient faster than any medication or antibiotic. Neither does he prescribe antibiotics easily, without observing the effects of the other drugs he prescribes. He considers antibiotics as a last resort when everything fails – even in the case of a patient suffering from HIV.

Apparently, Dr Om even made a major breakthrough with the anti-retroviral (ART) drug Abacavir, which is notorious for the side effects. This ART drug has concomitants which can kill the patient – yet Dr Om often continues with the therapy while watching the outcome of the drug on the patient. It is more of an experiment here, since the patient is on thin ice in such a situation.

Dr Om has no greed for money. All he knows is to send a patient back home in a healthy state. Yes, in some cases, he has failed – but the number of deaths under his eyes is miniscule compared to the number of people he has revived.

Even though he is known for his compassion, lucidity and forbearance, what the masses don’t know is his thirst for knowledge. His dreams of being a writer were fulfilled when he authored “AMOEBIASIS”, a book on the notorious disease, published by Mcgraw Hill in 2011. The book has been translated in several languages and is used in many medical schools. He has also co-authored “Infections in Immunocomprimised patients – ICU protocol Book”. His latest work was the article titled “Nine year trends of dengue virus infection in Mumbai, Western India”.

Noted for his active work and research, he has been nominated the chairperson of INFECON, the international conference for infectious diseases and HIV, which is held every year. Some more feathers were added to his cap:

1. Member of the State Advisory Committee H1N1.

2. Member of the State Malaria Death Review Committee, the Dengue Death Review Committee and the Swine Flu Death Review Committee.

3. Member of the Maharashtra Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Technical Committee.

To the world, Dr Om may be wealthy and successful – but, behind that success is a tremendous uphill battle. People have spoken ill behind his back, but that doesn’t deter him from reaching out to and healing patients.

I would like to end this article by recounting my personal encounter with Dr Om Shrivastav. My father was given a ‘death verdict’ by the other hospitals, when Dr Om took over my father. I was eight months pregnant at that time, and was unable to go for hospital visits.

I also dreaded hospitals and doctors – but my father was under his care. I was wailing when I spoke to him, “Will my father see my baby?” He replied, “If God wishes, I assure you he will.” My father survived, even though he was hospitalised 14 times under his supervision, after my daughter was born.

Unable to bear the trauma of hospital visits, I reached out and said, “I cannot come, I am busy.” He replied with the same thing every evening: “No need, call me each evening, I will reply to you and update you. Stay back home, and take care of your daughter and yourself.” To add to this, my own surgery was conducted under his supervision.

During my father’s hospitalisation, I came to know that adults too need vaccination to prevent infections. Dr Om explains it in the following manner: “Vaccines in adults in preventing or minimising the burden of infections are crucial to the well being of the individual. As you grow older, the immune system begins to slow down […] Once you take a vaccine, it is introducing a foreign body into your system. This is also called an antigen and is programmed to induce an antibody reaction from your immune system. This process is then recorded in a subset of cells called your memory T cells. The human papilloma virus vaccine is crucial in preventing cervical cancer […] Not every vaccine is suitable for everyone. There are live attenuated vaccines, killed vaccines, besides others. You need one which is best suited to you. You therefore need to tailor your requirements depending on your risk, age, and other factors. Preventive aspects of infections are far more vital than treating an already established one.”

Each act of kindness counts – this is especially true for Dr Om, who treats patients with kindness and does not look at money. All he gets in return are the blessings of the patients and their families being treated.

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Featured image source: Facebook
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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