A celebration of the legacy of Mary Glowrey

The Catholic Health Association of India has turned 75, celebrating past and future links with the University of Melbourne.

(L-r) Secretary Shakuntala Gamlin, Dept. of Empowerment of Person With Disabilities; Associate Professor Nathan Grills; the Hon Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot; Allan Myers, Chancellor of the University of Melbourne; Bruce Bonyhady (MDI director); Tim Kendall, First Secretary Australian High Commission; joint secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Dolly Chakrabarty.

The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) is India's second largest health provider, a charitable organisation that provides health care to over 20 million patients each year through local community workers. At its 75th anniversary celebrations in Delhi, experts from India and Australia shared their experiences about the inadequacies of services to underprivileged people in remote and regional areas.

Chaired by Associate Professor Nathan Grills, speakers taking part in the roundtable included:

  • Secretary Shakuntla Gamlin, of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities
  • Dr Henk Benedetto, WHO representative to India
  • Rev Dr Mathew Abraham, Director General CHAI.
  • Professor Suzanne Crowe AM from St Vincent’s Health; and Professor at The Burnet and a Director of the board for St Vincent’s Health.
  • Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM, Executive Director and Director of the Melbourne Disability Institute.

They spoke of the difficulties in attracting trained clinicians to marginalised areas and providing affordable, accessible health care to economically disadvantaged communities. Also, the challenge in bringing  appropriate programs to these areas, rather than  programs developed in major centres such as Delhi and Canberra without consulting local communities.

The Importance of ensuring access to services for people with disabilities was considered a human rights issue. Central to this discussion was the role of CHAI.

CHAI was founded in 1943 by an Australian, Sister Doctor Mary Glowrey (who had gradated from the University of Melbourne in 1910), in the city of Guntur (Andhra Pradesh Capital Region).

In his opening address to the roundtable, Director General Rev Mathew Abraham, spoke of CHAI's beginnings in providing compassionate and affordable care. For a decade, Mary Glowrey was the only member of a religious order permitted to practise medicine through a special dispensation from the Pope.

Today, there are 1000 Sister Doctors, 25,000 nurses and 51,000 sisters. University Chancellor Allan Myers AC QC acknowledged this remarkable connection with CHAI, through Mary Glowrey, and the current relationships in palliative care and disability, through programs such as the Mary Glowrey Scholarships.

Professor Craig Jeffrey, of the Australia-India Institute, told the gathering that the common thread across sectors and vertical collaboration was  the commitment and emphasis on compassion and seeing and treating the person behind the patient.

The celebrations continued at a reception at the High Commission and this included an address by the Bishop Theodore Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops conference of India. He thanked Australia for the gift of Mary Glowrey. He considered the place where a person came from was the source of who they were. As a young woman, Mary Glowrey, after reading a pamphlet by Dr Agnes McLaren on the plight of children in India, travelled to Guntur to give her compassion and skills as a medical practitioner to the people of India.

This was followed by the inauguration of the Mary Glowrey Lilian’s Disability Award by Mr Frank a Ron from the Lilian’s foundation. In her opening address at the commencement of the round table discussion to the reception in her home, The High Commissioner HE Harinder Sidhu acknowledged the remarkable contribution that CHAI has made to compassionate care in India and Mary Glowrey's legacy,  an organisation whose contribution should be acknowledged celebrated and supported

The high commissioner also acknowledged the contribution of Melbourne University and St Vincents Hospital in support the Sister Mary Glowrey Scholars program

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A/Prof Nathan Grills