Meet the award-winning doctor Padma Shri who treats people in the Sundarbans for free
New Delhi: Dr. Arunoday Mondal, 69, a Lake Town resident in Kolkata, is a doctor who won the Padma Shri award in 2020 for treating patients free of charge for more than two decades in remote areas of the Sundarbans. Dr Mondal treats an average of 12,000 patients each year and provides them with free medicine at a charity hospital he established in the Hingalganj region of the Sundarbans near the India-Bangladesh border. The West Bengal doctor travels to Hingalganj, a six-hour drive of about 90 km from his residence in Kolkata, twice a week to “fill treatment gaps in government hospitals”.
According to Dr Mondal, also known as ‘Sundarban ke Sujan’, he ‘easily’ treats more than 250 people, 80% of whom are poor, every weekend. Treatments range from heart conditions to eye, thyroid, gynecological and pediatric conditions. He also organizes medicine and organizes medical camps and blood drives.
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After graduating with an MBBS from the National Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, he worked as a physician at Dr. BC Roy Memorial Hospital for Children. Dr. Mondal quit his job in 1980 and began treating patients from his room in Birati.
Talking about his inspiration behind working for the people of the Sundarbans, Dr Mondal said he was born and raised in the rural Sundarbans in an underprivileged family, so he just wants to give back to his community with his knowledge.
I was born in 1953 in the Chandrakhali Panchayat area of the Hingalganj block of the Sundarbans. I had four brothers and five sisters. I studied at Chandrakhali Shiksha Niketan established by my father and grandfather. Having had the good fortune to go to medical school and become a doctor, I have served the people of my community for over four decades and my primary medical area is the Sundarbans themselves.
Dr Mondal says that being a former resident of the Sundarbans, he is well aware of the type of diseases that people in the region are prone to and vulnerable to and knows exactly what can work for them.
If you want to know the health risks that Sundarbans face, you must first understand the history and geography of the place, he told NDTV.
Read also : Geographical vulnerability, an asset for access to health care in the Sundarbans
Dr Mondal explains that the Sundarbans are spread over 100 islands and the locals live and earn their living on 35 islands. It is conventionally divided into two sections – remote (the area adjacent to the forest and the Bay of Bengal) and peripheral areas. The remote Sundarbans are away from the block city and the ring road is adjacent to the mainland. Due to lack of electricity and other amenities like drinking water supply as well as very poor road connectivity, people here suffer from different types of diseases.
These include waterborne diseases such as gastroenteritis, worm infestations, typhoid, hepatitis and various other such diseases. They also suffer from airborne diseases like chronic coughs and colds and bronchial asthma, at the same time they also suffer from various skin diseases due to the salinity of the river water. Most of the women are busy catching prawns in the river all day long. Due to prolonged exposure to salt water, they suffer from various skin diseases and at the same time they are forced to drink tube well water which is saline in nature and also highly contaminated with l ‘arsenic. So arsenic poisoning is also prevalent in this region. Salinity has also led to an increase in undiagnosed hypertension in the area.
Read also : Rising salinity and sea levels pose multiple health challenges for the 4.5 million people living in the Sundarbans
He further says that a large number of patients also suffer from hyperthyroidism and according to my observations, this is due to excessive consumption of common salt instead of iodized salt. Regarding the health status of women, they suffer from anemia and malnutrition due to lack of intake of nutritious and potent fortified foods. Children, on the other hand, suffer from severe malnutrition, more than 50% suffer from stunted growth due to less nutritious foods, lack of protein supplements and lack of knowledge.
Talking about the way forward for health care in Sundarban, Dr Mondal said he will continue to do his job despite the long journey.
I can understand that people’s expectations will rise since I am now a Padma Shri Fellow and could have many more patients. I will continue to serve them to the best of my ability. I am not seeking any government assistance despite recognition. I have served people on my own without any government assistance for more than 20 years, he said.
Read also : Nautical clinics bring health care to remote and inaccessible islands in the Sundarbans
However, Dr Mondal says the government needs to step up its efforts for the health and welfare of the people of the Sundarbans by setting up open-air clinics on the island and also ensuring adequate staffing in the only government hospital on the island. region.
The government must try to improve and reach these most remote people through their health system. I think that in these small islands, the government should organize a medical team, consisting of a doctor, a nurse and two paramedics. On each island, there should be 2-3 open air clinics where doctors visit regularly and if the people of the Sundarbans receive medical attention first, there will be no need for hospitalizations. If the government thinks one block level super specialty government hospital is enough to treat everyone, I disagree with that because the people in the remote areas are very poor and they can’t reach the city block because it is very expensive. Even when they arrive at the hospital in the block there are gaps in infrastructure, no doctors, no nurses and the quantity and quality of drugs they get through government procurement are very low, Dr. Mondal suggested.
NDTV – Dettol has been working for a clean and healthy India since 2014 through the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is led by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, and of humans to each other, with a focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It emphasizes the need to care for and consider the health of everyone in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous peoples, various Indian tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically distant populations, gender and sexual minorities. As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) is reaffirmed as hand washing is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same topic while focusing on the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, the fight against malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign realized the need to also take care of the health of the ecosystem. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits available resources, but also generates immense pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in an immense loss of biodiversity which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity”. The campaign will continue to cover issues such as air pollution, waste management, plastic bans, manual salvage and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also pursue the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only a clean Swachh or India where toilets are used and Open Defecation (ODF) status is achieved under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like Diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or a healthy India.