Dr Golam Ahmed Kibria was only an intern at the Burdwan Medical College when the country shut down for the second time due to COVID-19. So he took it upon himself to give free medical healthcare to people in rural and remote parts of West Bengal through his NGO Prayas
Born to a rural medical practitioner and an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker, Dr Golam Ahmed Kibria was privy to the pain and ordeal that weaker economic sections go through to access healthcare facilities. Since his childhood, he had watched his parents dedicate all their services to bridge this gap.
Inspired by his parents’ drive to reduce the suffering of the poor, he decided that he, too, would pursue medicine. He completed his MBBS degree from Burdwan Medical College in 2016 and joined the university as an intern in 2021. However, just as he had begun his medical practice, the second wave of the pandemic swept over the country.
In a conversation with The Better India, he recalls, “The cases increased and soon a lockdown was imposed, putting restrictions on travel and movement. This meant that those living in far off areas could not access healthcare facilities with ease. There were no buses or trains for people from remote parts of West Bengal to reach the hospital. At times, there were emergency cases that needed to be attended,” he says.
So Dr Golam decided to reach the needy and provide necessary treatment at their doorstep. “I started organising weekend camps in the villages, outside of my weekly work hours,” he says.
Today, his efforts have benefitted thousands — from identifying babies with congenital and neurological disorders to diagnosing an elderly woman who was unable to move due to severe orthopaedic disease, he has touched many lives for the better.
A role model for fraternity
Explaining his approach, Dr Golam says, “I reached the villages to organise free camps to screen patients with health complaints. Some patients were treated on the spot, while others with severe medical conditions were referred to the hospital. An ambulance would be called to attend to the patients and ferry them to the hospital.”
Dr Golam says all the services were free as the hospital belongs to the government.
Recognising his efforts, other doctors began joining his cause. Today, 160 members have organised 25 medical camps across villages and helped over 5,000 people, Dr Golam says.
“We established an NGO, Prayas, to ensure that the work continued even after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. Donations help meet medical expenses while the treatment is offered for free by the doctors,” he adds.
These services have also reduced the economic burden on patients. “Apart from the transport costs, the poor spend at least Rs 500 for consultation and medication. Our camps save that money,” he says.
Sharing his own example, Dr Golam says, “My parents collectively earned Rs 18,000 a month, and they struggled to meet my education expenses. I know the value of small savings. We as doctors have a sufficient salary, and we can afford to treat a few poor for free.”
However, not everyone saw his efforts in a positive light. “We faced resistance in many villages. Some village heads questioned our intentions, while others thought we were organising these camps for political gains. Some villagers thought free medical camps were our move to charge patients in the long run,” he explains.
Dr Golam hopes that his initiative encourages many others in his fraternity. “Health is a basic requirement for survival, like food and shelter. If doctors start reaching locals in their residential area to offer free treatment, hundreds can benefit from the same,” he concludes.
Edited by Divya Sethu