Victoria Hospital: 100 years

While a centenary is no doubt cause for celebration, one may ponder, or wonder, whether the expansion of hospital services is a marker of good health or rather one indicating that we are in fact a sick population!

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Yesterday there was a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Victoria Hospital (VH), which was opened on July 6, 1922, converted from army barracks. At that time, it was the largest and most modern hospital in the country that could accommodate about 240 patients, who came from both Plaines Wilhems and Black River districts. Dr Lucien de Chazal, MD London was the Medical Superintendent and Dr P. de Chaumont the resident medical officer. VH had medical, surgical and obstetric wards, and later ENT and eye patients were also treated.

Inauguration of the Princess Margaret Orthopaedic Centre, better known as PMOC, in 1956, in the same compound as Victoria Hospital. Pic – Vintage Mauritius

It has now come a long way indeed, the bed capacity being now 956, and the range of services offered has expanded to respond to the changing disease profile that has been taking place since the early 1980s. One of the first specialist services that was established in the country was Orthopaedics, with the inauguration of the Princess Margaret Orthopaedic Centre, better known as PMOC, in 1956, in the same compound as VH. Princess Margaret of the British Royal Family came over to do the inauguration.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, hardly anyone used the name Victoria Hospital: it was more commonly referred to as ‘L’Hopital Candos’ where it was situated, and interestingly, these three appellations – PMOC, L’Hopital Victoria and L’Hopital Candos – are still used interchangeably. People don’t really make the distinction that PMOC is meant for treatment of orthopaedic problems, but that is not of material consequence as far as the patient is concerned.

Yesterday’s celebration programme comprised a video clip of the hospital with some pictures of the historical buildings as well as visuals of the latest modern services and equipments available, official discourses on the part of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Heath & Wellness, launching of a souvenir e-magazine, and award of shields to former medical and nursing staff of the hospital for their long and dedicated years of service there. 

Further, there was also the presentation of the latest Report on the Survey of NCDs (2021). As for previous ones, this one too is the result of painstaking and meticulous collection and analysis of data by the collaboration of the local team and our valued overseas partners since long, under the ever-generous guidance and support of Prof Paul Zimmet who has been at the origin of all the projects and programmes that are being run today as regards the noncommunicable diseases.

This latest Report has shown some favourable trends compared to the previous one of five years ago, namely encouraging decreases or stabilization in the prevalence of these diseases, reductions in alcohol and tobacco consumption amongst others. While this is no doubt a good sign, the fact remains, however, that increasing numbers of patients are requiring treatment for complications of these diseases affecting the heart, the kidneys – 210,000 annually now being the number of dialyses being carried out – the eyes, the limbs, in fact all the organs systems of the body, so that the health budget keeps increasing.

While a centenary is no doubt cause for celebration, even that of a hospital, one may ponder, or wonder, whether the expansion of hospital services is a marker of good health or rather one indicating that we are in fact a sick population! However, this is another level of debate that I would prefer not to engage in here.

But one thing that certainly needs to be pointed out is that in the midst of all these hi-fi developments, the one vital ingredient that we must never forget is the human touch which all patients crave for. We may have a lot of hardware that facilitates diagnosis and treatment, for which the hardware uses physical software i.e., the operating systems, but all of us health professionals often forget that other software that only human beings can provide – communication and attitude.

Instead of calling upon lay customer care professionals or communication specialists to lecture young doctors about how to engage with their patients, this is something that can only and genuinely be learnt through apprenticeship with senior doctors. This responsibility falls squarely upon their shoulders and it is one they should gladly assume if they truly care for the image of the medical and health professions in general. I must concede that this is not always the case, which is all the more reason for us to emphasise its importance.

The starting premise for this is that we should not look upon the patient as a faulty machine that needs fixing up, but as a human being who needs not only our technical expertise but also our care and benevolence. In other words, we must change from thinking that we are treating a disease in a patient to the more humane one of considering that we are facing a patient with a disease. This is a paradigm shift in the sense that it forces us to take into account all the other determinants of health that come into play, family, social, economic, cultural factors that we need to factor so as to not only tackle the disease but also comfort the patient and family.

In the days of yore, this was a mainstay of medical practice, since there were not effective treatments for many diseases, and disease mortality was high. Perhaps it is such circumstances that led the famous 18th century surgeon Ambroise Pare to come up with the saying the role of the doctor is: guerir parfois, soulager souvent, consoler  toujours. However technologically advanced medicine may become, this truism will be ever relevant.

If only for this reason, that is why it is important for all of us, and doctors in particular, to know about the history of medicine. I have tried to cover this dimension for Victoria Hospital in an article I have written for the souvenir e-magazine.

However, it is only professional historians who can give a more comprehensive narrative about the evolution of the medical and health services in the country, as they have the methodology to research sources and materials and wrap up their findings in a more coherent manner. I think it is vitally important not only for health professionals but also for the population to be aware of the major historical landmarks in the development of our health system.

I sincerely believe that it would be well worth it for the MOH to contract out the writing of our medical history to historians who may be interested in particular aspects, such as the history of infectious disease in the pre-mentioned book. But it also behoves individual doctors to take the pain to delve into the past of their own specialties and areas of interest and share this with the medical community and the population at large.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 August 2022

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