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The Founding of Nazareth Hospital and the state of India's health today

I recently finished reading an inspiring story of six courageous women nuns hailing from Appalachia, Kentucky, called "Sisters of Mokama: The Pioneering Women Who Brought Hope and Healing to India," written by Jyoti Thottham. They achieved the admirable goal of founding Nazareth Hospital in the Indian state of Bihar, located in East India, in the small town of Mokama. They selflessly cared for the sickly and impoverished people in Mokama.

A man is standing outside in front of the hospital's entrance.
Nazareth hospital where history occurred!

Mother Ann Sebastian Sullivan, Sisters Crescentia Wise, Lawrencetta Veeneman, Charles Miriam, Ann Roberta, Florence Joseph, and Ann Cornelius were all inspiring heroine figures to me from reading Thottam's book. While serving in the Sisters of Charity Nazareth order, they did something bigger than themselves. The hospital was established on July 19, 1948. It was around the time that India gained their independence from Britain, and it was also around the same time that Partition occurred in which India and Pakistan split into two different countries. Another significant historical event in India was the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi or Gandhi. India was rife with violence, displacement, war, food rations, and food shortages.

Gandhi's famous quote written in colorful text in a sandpaper background
"Where there is love there is life"- Gandhi

Of course, the women faced many seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead of them st of establishing Nazareth Hospital. There were no readily available material resources for the nuns to develop and run the hospital efficiently, such as medicine, electricity, water, and well-equipped staff. The most admiring traits that the nuns exhibited were resourcefulness and dedication. Despite the hospital's underdevelopment, till remained dedicated to caring for sick people. Over the years, Nazareth Hospital has evolved in terms of its physical growth and the services offered. For example, in 1952, a separate clinic was established solely for people with leprosy. Also, Nazareth Hospital established training schools for midwives, nurse aides, and a pharmaceutical unit, which were introduced in 1954 and 1964, respectively.

Three women nurses in white uniform attend to a sick patient.
Three nurses attend to a sick patient at Nazareth Hospital Source:

Since the founding of Nazareth Hospital, it has endured many high and low points. One of the high points was its enduring reputation as a trusted place for people to receive dedicated, compassionate, high-quality care. According to the Sisters of Charity Nazareth order, Nazareth Hospital ranked number 5 among 80 Catholic-run hospitals nationally in India. In contrast, one of the hospital's shortcomings is the constant shortage of medical staff and the high expenses to maintain and run the hospital. To combat these problems, Nazareth has since adopted a community outreach model in that they and many other hospitals in India primarily focus on vaccine and immunization, HIV screenings, and hospice care.

Gandhi in a blue and white background.
Gandhi was India's leading figure. He was considered the "Father of India".

It should go without saying that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on every facet of society in the past three years, and India is no exception. Like everywhere else, the country has endured various intractable challenges regarding the pandemic, particularly social distancing, mask-wearing, and misinformation/disinformation centered around vaccine hesitancy. According to results from a recent UNICEF survey, vaccine hesitancy around the COVID-19 vaccine was more prevalent among urban respondents living in various Indian state and union territories. Around 72% of urban people thought the vaccine was crucial. In contrast, about 79% of rural respondents strongly believed in the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine to avert the spread of the virus. Interestingly, about 18% of urban respondents were less hopeful about the efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 lockdown is why India's immunization rate has been significantly low.

I read an inspiring, hopeful field story on the WHO India's website regarding a vaccination immunization drive in Guwahati, where vaccine hesitancy is highly prevalent. It took a local community health worker eight attempts to convince a young mother to vaccinate her infant daughter. This highlight shows that building trust and rapport is essential in any therapeutic relationship. Guwahati is located in Northeast India in the Indian state of Assam. The WHO article highlighted how ubiquitous the issue of vaccine hesitancy is there. Culture is a main precipitating factor that can make one extremely reluctant to vaccinate. One's values also play a significant role in making one apprehensive about the efficacy of vaccinations to protect against sickness and disease. An important lesson we can all learn from the pandemic is that our actions, whether big or small, can collectively make a massive difference in making the world a better place for all. The six nuns who answered their spiritual calling to establish Nazareth Hospital in Mokama, India, epitomized the values of social justice, compassion, and empathy when they collectively worked together to care for the sick and dispossessed people in Mokama.


Thottam, J. (2022). Sisters of mokama: The pioneering women who brought hope and healing to India. Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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