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 the Bhopal Disasters. However, Sambhavna is small compared to the magnitude and complexity of the problem. While approximately 150,000 survivors of the disaster are today chronically ill, the clinic run by this trust has provided direct treatment and support through its community health initiatives, to over 70,000 people.
At Sambhavna, survivors receive free medical care through Western medicines, ayurveda (an indigenous system of medicine based on herbs) and yoga therapy. The 56 staff members of the Sambhavna Clinic (just under half of which are survivors themselves) include five regular doctors and three visiting doctors (ENT specialist, opthalomologist and pathologist), one yoga and two Panchakarma therapists and six community health workers who carry out health surveys and manage health education programmes.
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.
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 derelict Union Carbide factory and directly south of JP Nagar, the worst-hit neighbourhood. The modern clinic, purpose-designed and 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- and we grow around 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. 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.
Visitors to the garden can find ample shade, beneath the trees, and relax in the rustic hut where they will find a clay hearth for making tea. With herbs everywhere, people coming for treatment find themselves surrounded by a variety of medicinal plants and, when the plants are flowering, the garden produces a sweet, vegetative aroma under the heat of the sun.
“In a time that humanity needs to reconcile the care and health of ecosystems, populations, communities and individuals, the Sambhavna Clinic stands as a true model of ecological health and well-being.” Robin Guenther, FAIA Perkins+Will, as appearing in Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, Wiley