Growing up, Dr Shankar Ramchandani saw how his father, the sole breadwinner of their family of 32 members, struggled to make ends meet while running a small stationery store.
When he lost his grandfather and uncle to cancer, his father was heartbroken that he was unable to fund their treatment.
“There was no medical care facility nearby, and they had to travel far distances to get treatment. And while the treatment was free, my family couldn’t afford the expenses of transportation,” Dr Ramchandani tells The Better India.
Thereafter, his father was determined to educate his children and make them doctors who could serve the poor, he says. “I aspired to be a doctor not only to fulfil my father’s dream but also to do my best to help the poor and the needy,” he says “But the journey towards my dream wasn’t that easy.”
“We were five sons and four daughters. I was the fifth son. We lost our father in 2001 and my eldest brother had to take all the responsibilities. I couldn’t even afford to buy textbooks and had to depend on hand-me-downs from my seniors,” says Dr Ramchandani, who scored the second rank in Odisha state during his medical entrance test.
Dr Ramchandani’s own life was a lesson to him, to ensure that others did not have to suffer the way he and his family did. In February 2021, he started a ‘One Rupee Clinic’ in Burla in Odisha’s Sambalpur district to provide treatment and medicine to the poor and underprivileged people.
He says that in the last year or so, he has treated 7,000 patients. On average, he sees 20-30 people a day.
Doctor of the masses
“It’s been a year since I started the one rupee clinic, and it gives me immense satisfaction to help the poor,” says the 38-year-old doctor, who also started a ‘one rupee medicine service’ on the first anniversary of their clinic in 2022.
Dr Ramchandani, who also works as an assistant professor at Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR), Burla, finds time for his clinic after work hours, he says.
“I was a student at VIMSAR and later became a senior resident there. In January 2021, I was promoted as an assistant professor and started the clinic in a rented house a month later,” says the doctor who specialises in internal medicine.
His father, Brahmanand Ramchandani, wanted him to open a nursing home for the poor. “But I wasn’t able to start one as it requires a huge investment. So, I decided to start a clinic, where I could do more service than in a nursing home,” he adds.
“I charge Rs 1 because I don’t want my patients to feel that they are availing of the services free of cost. They should feel that they have paid something for the treatment. I am happy that I am able to help the poor, underprivileged, elderly, the disabled, and anyone else who doesn’t have access to medical care,” he says.
Apart from giving treatment, the doctor also provides medicines for Rs 1 to his patients. “I realised that many of my patients were unable to even afford medicines worth as cheap as Rs 10 or Rs 20. So I buy them at low prices from wholesalers, and mainly through the government’s Jan Aushadi scheme,” he explains.
“In cases when there is a need for expensive medicines, I use my own money,” he adds.
The One Rupee Clinic, located at the Kachha market area in Burla town, is open from 6 pm to 7 pm in the evening. “As I have a government job, I have to work from 9 am to 5 pm. Then I resume my service at the clinic from 6 pm. Even though the timings have been fixed from 6 to 7 pm, it goes beyond 7 pm and sometimes even till 11 pm,” says Dr Ramchandani.
Khireswar Pradhan, a farmer and a social worker from Sambhalpur says, “Dr Ramchandani has been a social worker rather than a doctor. He has helped save the lives of several people by spending thousands of rupees from his own pocket.”
Dr Ramchandani has also set up another clinic for the poor in his native place, Padampur, adds Mr Pradhan
“I visit my house at Padampur fortnightly and sit there for consultations from morning till evening. There is no fixed timing as such,” he explains.
Dr Ramchandani is also active in conducting leprosy awareness drives.
“There are several people who have recovered from leprosy and are still having to suffer a pitiful life. I wanted to help those people and break the social stigma surrounding it. So, I pledged to take care of a colony in Junapani by providing free health care and education for the children,” says Dr Ramchandani.
The doctor has also received widespread appreciation for his helping people during the pandemic. He treated a 27-year-old COVID-19 patient beyond his duty hours and carried him in his car to the hospital amid the first wave of the pandemic. He was also praised by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan for his One Rupee Clinic initiative.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)