Suresh Kumar

Ashoka Fellow
India,
Fellow Since 2012
Institute of Palliative Medicine

Citation

This profile was prepared when Suresh Kumar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
The Institute for Palliative Medicine (IPM) founded by Dr. Kumar in 2003 is one of the few training institutions for palliative care in Asia and the only institute focused on community led care. IPM has created the Neighborhood Network for Palliative Care (NNPC), which is currently operating throughout the state of Kerala through a network of neighborhood-level units. The network links volunteers trained by the IPM program, full-time doctors, staff and auxiliary nurses to serve over 2,500 patients a week. By placing communities at the center of this palliative care network, Dr. Kumar is creating a critical role for communities in the healthcare system and making palliative care more affordable and accessible.

Dr. Kumar recognizes that institutional healthcare delivery systems are ill-equipped to meet the changing demographics and needs of society. Palliative care is still only accessible to 8 percent of the 100 million people in need of it globally. To provide effective treatment to a growing number of patients with incurable and chronic diseases, he has created a volunteer-led model that effectively distributes the responsibility, cost, and resources among the larger community.

Rather than viewing the provision of palliative care as a medical problem with a social component, Dr. Kumar believes the treatment of chronic diseases and incurable illnesses are social problems with medical components. Dr. Kumar has created a sustainable model in which community volunteers run independent, local palliative care centers with medical professionals and nurses serving in a supportive role. Each neighborhood-level care unit raises funds from the surrounding communities to support its efforts. Each unit also employs doctors and nurses as needed to support their work. The volunteers typically provide home care, which removes a huge financial burden on the healthcare system and the patient’s family. Free care is provided to poorer individuals, who constitute the majority of the centers’ patients. Thus the services provided by the local units improve the quality of palliative care as it pertains to the socioeconomic impact of the illness along with direct medical needs.

In the process of taking care of the terminally ill, Dr. Kumar has seen volunteers develop strong qualities of empathy, leadership, and teamwork. Volunteering with Dr. Kumar’s organization can be seen as an entry point for developing more effective citizenship.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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