Ipsita Pradhan Global Health Travel Reflection

Center for Global Health
October 29, 2022
Ipsita Pradhan with colleagues in India.

Ipsita Pradhan is a 3rd-year College of Medicine student at MUSC. Ipsita was awarded a Center for Global Health Student & Trainee Travel Grant in the spring of 2022 to pursue a project with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Odisha, India.

She reflects on her experience abroad: 

I was in the city of Bhubaneswar which is in Odisha, India for 3 weeks in April working on a project studying the quality of life of thalassemia patients in India. My typical day started with getting to the hospital around 9 AM and meeting with thalassemia patients and their families in the outpatient clinic on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I met with any in-patient thalassemia patients and rounded with the team on the general hematology ward. During my meetings with the families, I was in charge of interviewing them, focusing on questions about their quality of life. While I am from India and grew up there for the first 12 years of my life, this experience in the hospital was completely new to me and the things I learned during my time there will stay with me throughout my future global health work.

A group of children in India sit in a group.

The part of my trip that I have reflected on often since returning to the States is the conversations I had during the patient interviews. One of the patients I interviewed was a 16-year-old girl who had severe thalassemia complications. When I asked her how school was going, she replied that she had stopped going to school a few years ago because she could not ride her bike to school. In India, it is uncommon for public schools to have buses. Most children who go to public schools either walk or ride their bikes to school. Something that made her situation even worse was that she belonged to a Brahmin family. Brahmin refers to the highest class in the Indian caste system. Women in the Brahmin caste, especially in rural areas, are expected to stay home and fulfill household duties such as cooking, cleaning, and praying. Belonging to this caste made it even easier for her family to keep her at home when her health worsened. I often think about how her life would have been different if she was born into another caste or lived in an urban area. This story also reminds to me of how culture and caste are such a deeply ingrained part of society and can even influence healthcare.

A medical lab in India.

Another patient interview that I think about often is with a mother of a 5-year-old thalassemia patient. She was cast out of her husband and his family’s home because they believed that she had cursed blood and that is what led to her son getting thalassemia. She has since then moved to the city and works as a cook in several houses but is having a hard time paying for her son’s living costs, education, and thalassemia treatment with her salary. In Eastern India, thalassemia is often referred to as “Rakter dosh”. This translates to “corrupted blood” and is often used to describe thalassemia patients or carriers of the mutation. Even though both asymptomatic parents need to be carriers for the child to have the disease, the blame is most often put on the mother. There are so many mothers who have been thrown out of their homes with their children because their families cannot afford to pay for thalassemia treatment. In India, in order to receive blood for transfusions, you have to donate blood of the same type.

A line of people in India.

For this reason, someone who doesn’t have a family or community (like the mothers who have been cast out) can have a hard time providing treatment for their children. Some mothers have even had to take part in prostitution to have someone donate blood so that their children receive blood transfusions. Stories such as these make me think about how difficult life can be for those who are poor and needy in resource-limited countries. With the Indian population being so large and the country having so many other issues, these mothers’ pain, and their dedication to their children are easily overlooked.

My trip back to my home country was eye-opening and inspirational in terms of what I would like to do in my future career. It solidified my interest in global health and helping the often neglected tribal population of the state where I am from. I have loans for my medical school education so the Center for Global Health’s travel grant was immensely beneficial to me. To be able to travel for this project and not have to take out additional loans was a huge relief for me. Thank you for helping me fund this amazing opportunity and helping me through my first
experience in global health!