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Velorution for access to health services in India

Oct 29, 2013

Medecins Sans Frontieres , an international NGO, strives to ride on ‘Velorution’ or a cycle revolution to take healthcare services to the ignored sections of society.

New Delhi/Gurgaon: With an aim to trigger a public debate on humanitarian healthcare services, Dr Unni Karunakara, the outgoing International president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) embarked on a road trip covering 5,000 kms on his bicycle from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. An avid cyclist, Dr Karunakara, carries a long experience of 18 years in the field of International healthcare.

Dr Karunakara kick started his journey on 12th October- 2013 from Srinagar, after delivering a lecture on ‘Medical Humanitarian Aid: The Experience of Doctors Without Borders’ to the medical students. Since then, Dr Unni has already covered 954 kms and plans to culminate the journey at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, in coming four months.

During the early hours on 27th October 2013, Dr Unni was joined by few more cycling enthusiasts from Delhi, they completed their 25 km cycle-ride from Rashtrapati Bhawan at Bio-Diversity Park in Gurgaon. Nancy Barret, Head of Communications, MSF, said that the idea behind this initiative was to promote access to basic healthcare and also to encourage people and medical professionals to support humanitarian healthcare system for the underprivileged. Overwhelmed with the massive support, she indicated MSF will turn this event into an annual event, extending it to other major cities of India such as Mumbai and Bangalore.

Dr Unni Karunakara called his cross-country bicycle road tour a ‘Velorution’, which he referred to as a cycle revolution to raise awareness and induce sensitivity towards the public health. “This is something I've been wanting to do from last 25 years”, the last time he cycled in India was in the year 1998 from Delhi to Leh.

Karunakara lamented how healthcare services in India are not available to those who need it the most. His initiative is an attempt to bring together the cycling community to show solidarity for a humanitarian healthcare system, where everyone has ‘Right to Dignity’ with equal access to basic healthcare services. When asked about his most striking discovery through his journey so far, he said, “India has gone through a significant transition from the prevalence of infectious diseases to major chronic diseases, now diseases like diabetes, hypertension are on a constant rise.”

Few of the major areas of concern in India for Dr Unni Karunakara were the problems of lowest strata, rising incidence of multiple drug resistance for tuberculosis and growing cases of Hepatitis-C in India. However, he lauded Indian generic drug industry, for its contribution in bringing down the exorbitant cost of few life-saving drugs, and enhancing the affordability and accessibility of healthcare service for the poor.

Highlighting the deprivation of Indian citizens, he emphasized on the need to sensitise the government machinery in order to introduce healthcare policies which are inclusive, irrespective of gender, caste, economic status of the beneficiary.

With ‘Unnicycle Tours’, name given to this cross-country bicycle road tour, Dr Unni aims to stopover at 64 cities, towns and villages, hold talks on humanitarian healthcare services at ten medical colleges and also attend film screenings and meetings organized by Alliance Francaise.

At this event, Martin Sloot, General Director, MSF-India, said, “Biking is one of the activities where people could join irrespective of gender, caste or any other factor, creating an open platform for all the cycling enthusiasts to come together and show solidarity for humanitarian healthcare system”. Through this event MSF aims to spread awareness about their ongoing projects in India and also elicit support of highly qualified medical professionals and funding for their projects worldwide.

Dr Unni Karunakara completed his tenure as International President at Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, a Nobel Prize winning organisation, on October 1, 2013.  MSF India is currently running eight projects across seven states in India.

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