Doctor for the poor

Kiwi living his dream in Bangladesh, providing healthcare to the helpless for close to 30 years
Thousands of miles away from home, someone is living up to his childhood promise: helping the helpless.
In a rare example of love and sacrifice, he has been treating poor patients in Madhupur reserved forest area in Tangail for 28 years almost for free.
Dr Edric Baker, a citizen of New Zealand, set up a healthcare centre at Kailakuri village of the union in 1983 and has since been giving treatment and medicine to the locals.
For checkup, he charges Tk 5 from the patients living within three kilometres of the centre and Tk 10 from those living beyond. After checkup, patients get the required medicine from the centre whether they can afford it or not.
Every day, around 100 outpatients get treatment and medicine for diabetes, tuberculosis (TB), fever, cough, burn injuries, stomach problems and complications related to pregnancy, among others.
Those needing long-time treatment are admitted to the 35-bed centre that has diabetes, TB, diarrhoea, burn and mother and child units. The admission fee for an inpatient is Tk 100, and that’s all they will ever have to pay no matter how long they have to stay at the centre. Everything else involving treatment, medicine and food are provided at free of cost, locals and officials of the centre said.
In addition, Dr Baker, locally known as Daktar Bhai, has trained up 89 young boys and girls as health assistants and paramedics who visit the neighbouring villages to give treatment to the sick people, especially the pregnant mothers and newborns.
Set up on a four-acre land at Kailakuri village under Madhupur upazila, Kailakuri Health Care Centre has two special programmes — one for diabetes patients and the other for mother and children.
Some 1,100 diabetic patients receive treatment under the diabetes programme that covers four upazilas of Tangail, Jamalpur and Mymensingh districts. The mother and child programme covers 17 villages around the centre.
Asked why he has chosen Bangladesh to realise his dream, Baker said the people here are “really good” and they do not get healthcare due to poverty. “I’ve chosen this country in order to give them a little health support.”
“All patients are required to pay a little. It is because they are then aware of their rights as patients. But none is turned away because they are too poor to pay,” said the 70-year-old, who chose to remain single so he has “no bond” that would pull him back from fully devoting his life to the helpless.
Born into a noble family in 1941, Baker obtained his MBBS degree from Otego Medical College at Dunedin in New Zealand in 1965.
Subsequently, he joined a government medical team and served in war-ravaged Vietnam till 1975. He then went to Australia and England and took several courses on child health.
He came to Bangladesh in 1979. However, he heard about the sufferings of the Bangladeshi people in the hands of the Pakistani forces during the Liberation War in 1971 when he was in Vietnam.
First, he joined a Christian mission hospital in Meherpur. After two years, he moved to Kumudini Hospital in Mirzapur where he worked for eight months.
He then joined a clinic run by the Church of Bangladesh at Thanarbaid of Madhupur upazila in 1983 but soon realised that he needed to learn Bangla if he really wanted to understand his patients, many of them indigenous people. In a year, he learned to communicate in Bangla from Jalchhatra Christian Mission in Madhupur. Dr Baker now speaks fluent Bangla.
Immediately after joining the Church of Bangladesh clinic, he opened a small healthcare centre at Kailakuri as the number of patients was growing at the clinic.
Finally, in 1996, he set up the Kailakuri Health Care Centre.
Sholakuri union Chairman Yakub Ali said that before the centre was set up, locals had to go to Madhupur, which is 20 km from the village, for treatment. The journey through the muddy, hilly road was very long and tortuous.
Yakub added that nobody in that village died without medical care since the opening of the centre.
On an average, the annual cost of the centre inclusive of medical equipment, medicine, patients’ food and staff salary is around Tk 1 crore, said Noor Amin Ratan, an administrative assistant at the centre.
Last year, the outlay was Tk 1.25 crore, according to its financial statement obtained by The Daily Star. Of the sum, 85 percent came from donation and four percent from patients’ contribution.
Asked where the donation comes from, Amin said, “Our Daktar Bhai collects the money from private donors including his friends and well-wishers in New Zealand, the US and the UK.”
Talking about his lifelong service, Baker said, “Man can do everything if he has dedication. And dedication comes from faith.”
He goes to New Zealand once a year for visa extension and to collect money for the centre.
He is the only qualified doctor, but Mariko Innu, an MBBS physician from Japan, often visits the corrugated tin-roofed earthen centre to help him.
However, the man who has been treating patients for nearly 50 years is now himself under treatment. In the last four months, he underwent two operations, said Md Nekbor, one of his assistants.
Still, Daktar Bhai goes to the centre every day if he can. But how long? Sitting in his mud-built one-room home just behind the centre, he told this correspondent that he now waits for a successor. “Many students get MBBS degree in the country every year. I’m waiting for one of them to come and take the responsibility to provide treatment to the poor in the area.”


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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