I joined med school in 1977. I have witnessed, first hand, the devastation caused by disease, and how entire families starve and become homeless if a wage-earner falls sick. I specialized in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and honed my medical skills at AIIMS, the premier institution of India, doing Advanced Laproscopy Surgery and dealing with High-Risk Pregnancies.Over the years, I gathered many awards and accolades, but moved on each time to learn, serve, and have a greater impact.
After 15 years in public hospitals, when I left and joined a posh, private hospital, I was horrified to find that the poor were not welcome.The kind of indignity that the poor have to suffer, especially when they need medical help, was shocking. I set up a partnership with a senior Government officer Sandeep Ahuja, MPP, and together we served the slum dwellers for several years, where we would visit slums, understand the health needs of the communities and give free consultations. Also, I would do about 60 -70 surgeries per year for the needy (Caesarians, hysterectomies, ovarian cystectomies, D&C, cervical biopsies and cryo, to name a few), and Sandeep would utilise his network to provide the funds needed to buy medicines or pay for a hospital bed.
The defining moment came when at a point in my life I suffered tremendous personal loss and overwhelming grief, but overcame it all to introspect, discuss, understand the need of the hour,and forge ahead. There was a time of great sorrow,but that time passed. Healing takes time, and when it happened, I decided to take "the road less travelled by", as the poet Robert Frost has said. Sandeep and I discussed our experiences at length, and subsequent brain storming showed how we could leverage our partnership, and get maximum benefits with limited resources. We realized that there is tremendous need in Tuberculosis. India has one fourth the burden of the world, and 2 million new cases a year, even though Tuberculosis is curable. MDR Tuberculosis is the emerging man-made epidemic, which occurs because of missing doses. Patients miss doses for so many reasons, because of denial, fear of losing jobs, fear of losing their place in the homes, or simply not knowing where to go and whom to turn to if the dreaded symptoms appear. Years of experience in treating patients from disadvantaged background helped me to understand their background and psyche. Another reason for choosing Tuberculosis was that it is one of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, therefore a lot of infrastructure, i.e. diagnostics, physicians consultation , medicines have been provided free from the World Health Organisation and the government. So we can leverage our investment several times over. I also found that slum-dwellers,who are a migratory population, have the highest default rate. They have no knowledge about how to access the infrastructure to fight Tuberculosis. Ignorance, poverty, and malnutrition make things worse. The first pilot taught me that we cannot force patients to take medicine. They have to do it voluntarily. We can make headway only if we target the root cause of default, which is ignorance and fear.