The second organisation supported by the Bhopal Medical Appeal is the Sambhavna Trust which runs the Sambhavna Clinic. Sambhavna is a Sanskrit / Hindi word which means ‘possibility’. Read as ‘sama’ and ‘bhavna’ it means: ‘similar feelings’ or ‘compassion’.The Sambhavna Trust is a charitable trust run by a group of eminent doctors, scientists, writers and social workers who have been involved with various aspects of the Union Carbide disaster ever since its occurrence in December 1984. The Chairperson of Sambhavna, Dr PM Bhargava, was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India in 1986 and the Legion d’Honneur in 1998 by the French government for his scientific and social contributions. Dr HH Trivedi, former Professor at the Gandhi Medical College and Sathyu Sarangi are the two Bhopal-based trustees of Sambhavna. Sathyu is also a trustee of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.
Many are unaware that the disaster in Bhopal continues to this day. An estimated 120,000–150,000 survivors of the disaster are still chronically ill. Over 25,000 have died of exposure-related illnesses and more are dying still. Tens of thousands of children born after the disaster suffer from growth problems and many women suffer from menstrual and gynecological disorders. TB is several times more prevalent in the gas-affected population and many forms of cancers are on the rise.
The failure of the official system of healthcare contributes largely to the medical disaster in Bhopal. All research and monitoring of the long-term health effects of Union Carbide’s gases have been abandoned since 1994. So far no treatment protocols for symptom complexes associated with toxic exposure have been established and symptomatic treatment remains the mainstay of medical response. The indiscriminate prescription of steroids, antibiotics and psychotropic drugs is compounding the damage caused by the gas exposure. Despite the expenditure of hundreds of crores of rupees by the government and the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust (BMHT) towards medical relief, the health status of the survivors and their children continues to deteriorate.
In the prevailing situation of despair, the Sambhavna Trust believes in creating possibilities by generating compassion. The work carried out by the Sambhavna Trust has shown that it is possible to evolve simple, safe, effective, ethical and participatory ways of treatment monitoring and research for the survivors of Bhopal. However, Sambhavna is small compared to the magnitude and complexity of the disaster. While an estimated 120,000-150,000 survivors of the disaster are today chronically ill, the clinic run by this trust has provided direct treatment to approaching 45,000 people and provided support to about the same number through its health initiatives in 10 communities close to the Union Carbide factory.
At Sambhavna, survivors are offered free medical care through allopathy, ayurveda (an indigenous system of medicine based on herbs) yoga, as well as through western medicines. The 57 staff members of the Sambhavna Clinic (over half of which are survivors themselves) include five doctors, two yoga and two Panchakarma therapists and six community health workers who carry out health surveys, health education and community organisation for better health.
Inside the Sambhavna Clinic
The Sambhavna Clinic stands in about one acre of medicinal herb garden in the heart of the gas-affected area of Bhopal, half a kilometre from the disused Union Carbide factory and directly south of JP Nagar, the worst-hit neighbourhood. The modern clinic was purpose-designed and built after we outgrew our original building. The new clinic, opened in 2006, is ecologically constructed throughout and designed to provide a pleasant and uplifting environment for people coming to us for care. In contrast to government hospitals there are no paan (betel leaf) stains on the walls. Such a tranquil exterior doesn’t really prepare you for the diversity and dedication of the work inside – though it does reveal something of Sambhavna’s integrative approach to the healthcare of Bhopal gas survivors.
For instance, the shrubs, trees and climbing plants surrounding Sambhavna, while contributing to a soothing environment for gas-affected visitors, are also intensely functional. Many have a specific use in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional Indian system employed at Sambhavna. Among the flowerbeds you will find the heart-shaped leaves of Tinospora cordifolia, a plant used in Ayurvedic medicine to dispel different kinds of fever. We grow 90 kinds of herbs in the garden. Distinctive for their foliage are small trees of Ricinus communis, good for relieving pain in the chest, abdomen, limbs and joints – all key symptoms of gas exposure.
Visitors to the garden can find ample shade beneath the trees and can also relax in the shade of the rustic hut we have made, which has a clay hearth for making tea. With herbs everywhere, people coming for Panchakarma treatment, Yoga or women’s complaints find themselves surrounded by a variety of medicinal plants. Especially so when some of the plants are flowering, the garden produces a sweet vegetative aroma under the heat of the sun.