Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

Even though he earned only Dh43 a month, Hus­sain Momin saved up enough money to build a hos­pi­tal for the poor in his re­mote vil­lage af­ter his mother suf­fered from lack of qual­ity med­i­cal care. Nil­ima Pathak and Anand Raj OK re­port

Friday - - Contents -

Meet Hus­sain Momin, a me­chanic who built a hos­pi­tal for im­pov­er­ished vil­lagers in Gu­jarat, In­dia.

Hus­sain Momin is tin­ker­ing with the en­gine of a tractor that’s in his work­shop for re­pair. An hour later, the 48-yearold wipes his grease-black­ened hands on a rag, then pow­ers up the ve­hi­cle. “It’s ready,” he tells the owner.

The farmer smiles, happy he can now re­turn to work in his field. “Can I pay you for this to­mor­row?” he asks, and Hus­sain agrees.

“You truly are a great man,” the elderly farmer says, shak­ing his hand. “Af­ter all, you built a hos­pi­tal for us.” Hus­sain smiles mod­estly. There are few peo­ple in the vil­lage of Telav, about 10km from Ahmed­abad, in the western In­dian state of Gu­jarat, who don’t know him.

The il­lit­er­ate and poor me­chanic in­vested all his sav­ings into build­ing a multi-spe­cial­ity hos­pi­tal last year for vil­lagers who were un­able to af­ford qual­ity med­i­cal treat­ment. Since then it has helped to save the lives of over 2,000 pa­tients.

“I’d al­ways wanted to do some­thing to help the peo­ple in my vil­lage who were strug­gling to get good health care,” he says. “I think even my mother, who was suf­fer­ing from se­vere de­pres­sion in the last few years of her life, would have had a bet­ter qual­ity of life if there had been med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in the vicin­ity.

“At the time, the clos­est mul­ti­spe­cial­ity hos­pi­tal was in Ahmed­abad and in the case of an emer­gency it would take sev­eral hours to reach the hos­pi­tal as we were too poor to have am­bu­lances or mo­tor ve­hi­cles to get to the hos­pi­tal in time.”

It was the loss of Hus­sain’s mother Jivi, who died in 2002 when she was in her 50s, that jolted him into

ac­tion. “She meant a lot to me be­cause I know how much she strug­gled to raise my two younger sib­lings and me,” he says.

Hus­sain was just eight when his farmer fa­ther Nabi Momin aban­doned him and his two broth­ers – Rah­man, then seven, and Vali, then five. “I think my fa­ther could not deal with the ab­ject poverty that we lived in. He ap­par­ently felt ex­tremely de­jected by the fact that, de­spite his hard work, he could never pro­vide enough for his fam­ily, so much so that one fine day he just walked away.

“There were many days we strug­gled for food. My mother, who was an il­lit­er­ate woman her­self and had never worked be­fore, used to run er­rands for vil­lagers who would of­fer her food in re­turn, which she’d rush back home to share with us. But we of­ten didn’t know when – or even if – we would ever get our next meal.”

Too poor to go to school, Hus­sain worked on the fam­ily farm and did odd jobs in the vil­lage to en­sure his fam­ily could get by. When he turned 20, he left home to earn a liv­ing in the city. “Since I never at­tended school, I had no skills and had no clue what life had in store for me,” he says. “But I was will­ing to do any work to make a liv­ing and help my fam­ily.”

Af­ter do­ing sev­eral odd jobs in var­i­ous vil­lages, he reached Chiloda, a small town in Gand­hi­na­gar, the state cap­i­tal. “There I met a man named Am­balal Pa­tel, the owner of a garage, who changed my life. He taught me to re­pair ve­hi­cles and slowly I ac­quired the so­bri­quet of ‘mas­ter of ma­chines’,” Hus­sain says.

Liv­ing fru­gally on a salary of Rs700 (Dh43) a month, he would send most of it back home to his fam­ily in the vil­lage.

“That helped the fam­ily and once my younger broth­ers started do­ing well in farm­ing, I be­gan to save a ma­jor por­tion of my salary.”

Five years into his job, he re­turned to his vil­lage and mar­ried his neigh­bour, Sub­han­aben. “I couldn’t af­ford to take her along to the city where I was work­ing so she stayed in Telav with my fam­ily and I used to visit her as of­ten as I could.”

In 2001, af­ter 15 years in the job, dur­ing which he rose to be a se­nior me­chanic earn­ing and sav­ing more, Hus­sain de­cided to head back home.

“I had saved around Rs700,000 (about Dh42,000) and de­cided to use part of it to set up a small garage in Telav,” he says. “Also, I wanted to be around my kids – daugh­ter and son – dur­ing their grow­ing up years.”

His busi­ness did well but Hus­sain wasn’t happy. “A year af­ter I came back to the vil­lage, my mother passed away af­ter years of suf­fer­ing. It was a turn­ing point and I de­cided I wanted to work for the good of so­ci­ety. But I didn’t know where to be­gin.”

Af­ter see­ing his mother’s daily strug­gle with her health, Hus­sain de­cided that he would put all he had into a hos­pi­tal. “There was no hos­pi­tal in my vil­lage. Even for mi­nor med­i­cal is­sues, pa­tients were forced to trudge miles to the near­est hos­pi­tal in the city. I used to see so many of my friends and even my own fam­ily mem­bers strug­gling to get good med­i­cal aid in the vil­lage.

“I didn’t want peo­ple to suf­fer due to the lack of med­i­cal care so I de­cided to in­vest all I had saved into build­ing a hos­pi­tal.”

Hus­sain had a plot of land he had in­her­ited from his grand­fa­ther and although it was about 6km from his home, he de­cided to build a hos­pi­tal on it. “Since the plot was bar­ren and had not been utilised so far, I thought it would be ideal for my plans. I de­cided to use my sav­ings for the hos­pi­tal. Around Rs500,000 was spent in the con­struc­tion of the build­ing and Rs200,000 on ba­sic med­i­cal equip­ment.”

Af­ter a year, the struc­ture was ready. But Hus­sain’s prob­lems were still not over. Now the big­gest hur­dle was find­ing doc­tors who would be will­ing to prac­tise in the vil­lage.

“I ap­proached sev­eral doc­tors in the city and asked them to come to my hos­pi­tal but none were will­ing to work for free,” he says.

“Then, af­ter about four months of wait­ing to find the right peo­ple to run the hos­pi­tal, a group of men came to me and asked if they could use the premises. These men were not qual­i­fied doc­tors but had pre­vi­ously worked with doc­tors as pharmacists and as­sis­tants. Rather than keep­ing the hos­pi­tal closed, I thought it would ben­e­fit peo­ple so al­lowed them to use the place.”

Un­for­tu­nately they were not the kind of peo­ple Hus­sain had in mind when he con­ceived the hos­pi­tal.

“I’d wanted it to be a char­i­ta­ble hos­pi­tal but un­known to me, the staff were charg­ing pa­tients ex­or­bi­tantly. Since I used to be busy in the garage all day, I had no idea what was hap­pen­ing in my hos­pi­tal so came to know about it only much later.”

By the time Hus­sain re­alised what was hap­pen­ing at the hos­pi­tal, it was too late and his dream project ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion as a place where pa­tients were fleeced and not treated well.

“Af­ter seven months of op­er­a­tions, I man­aged to throw out the men and de­cided to close down the hos­pi­tal. I was ex­tremely up­set that the place I had built with all my life’s sav­ings and hard work was be­ing

mis­used and the pa­tients were be­ing cheated.”

A bro­ken man, he was dev­as­tated that his rep­u­ta­tion was in tat­ters be­cause of the greed of a few un­scrupu­lous peo­ple. So up­set was he that his work at the garage be­gan to suf­fer. “I could not con­cen­trate on my work be­cause my mind was oc­cu­pied with my hos­pi­tal and how to get it back on track.”

Since Hus­sain had in­vested all his sav­ings into his dream project “we were pen­ni­less once again and I didn’t know where to be­gin anew”.

Not sur­pris­ingly, re­al­is­ing he was in a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, land sharks be­gan to of­fer to pur­chase the prop­erty. “Some of them of­fered me a fairly tempt­ing sum – around a mil­lion ru­pees.” But he re­fused to sell the hos­pi­tal build­ing.

“It was a tough call to take as I had the re­spon­si­bil­ity to look af­ter my wife and 22-year-old son, Hanif, who did not have a job. There were moments when just like my fa­ther, I too wanted to run away.”

One night, about four months af­ter shut­ting down the hos­pi­tal, Hus­sain’s friend Mad­hub­hai Go­hil came by. “He told me his friend Dr Kartick Shukla might be in­ter­ested in see­ing my hos­pi­tal. Of course I was happy even though I didn’t know how se­ri­ous he was,” says Hus­sain.

A month later, a neigh­bour came run­ning to Hus­sain’s garage say­ing Dr Shukla was wait­ing for him out­side his hos­pi­tal. “As I walked in­side the build­ing with Dr Shukla, I sensed such pos­i­tive vibes that even be­fore he ut­tered a word, I knew I could trust him blindly.”

Dr Shukla was sur­prised that a rea­son­ably well-equipped hos­pi­tal in the vil­lage was not op­er­a­tional.

“I asked Hus­sain more about it and was moved when he said he sim­ply wished to help the poor and the needy. I’ve spent sev­eral years in the pro­fes­sion and it had never crossed my mind to do some benev­o­lent work for peo­ple other than just treat­ing pa­tients who come to me. But here was a man who could have lived a com­fort­able life by sell­ing the prop­erty but had de­cided against it so he could re­alise a noble dream.

“I was in­spired by this tractor re­pair man. I im­me­di­ately knew that I could make this hap­pen.”

Dr Kartick agreed to work in the hos­pi­tal free of charge and us­ing his con­tacts at­tracted a small team of like-minded doc­tors and was able to re­open the 25-bed hos­pi­tal in Novem­ber last year.

He con­tacted ex­perts in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines who of­fered to pro­vide their ser­vices free of charge. The hos­pi­tal has or­thopaedic sur­geons, gynaecologists, den­tal sur­geons, ENT spe­cial­ists, oph­thal­mol­o­gist, a gen­eral physi­cian and a phys­io­ther­a­pist on its board.

“Now Hus­sain and I have a com­mon dream of help­ing the less for­tu­nate peo­ple in and around the vil­lage,” Dr Kartick says. “About 150 vil­lages, spread as far as 120km from Telav, ben­e­fit from the hos­pi­tal.”

One such pa­tient is 20-year-old To­ral Pa­tel from Panchma­hal in Santram­pur district. The teenager had tu­ber­cu­lo­sis of the spine but be­cause her fam­ily was poor and couldn’t af­ford reg­u­lar check-ups and med­i­ca­tion, her con­di­tion wors­ened.

Sit­ting in a wheel­chair next to the re­cep­tion counter, To­ral smiles as her fa­ther Bhavesh ex­plains, “I ad­mit­ted my daugh­ter to the hos­pi­tal in a crit­i­cal state.

“The doc­tors op­er­ated on her im­me­di­ately and now she is ab­so­lutely fine and is go­ing to be dis­charged soon. I am eter­nally

‘Hus­sain and I have a com­mon dream of help­ing the less for­tu­nate peo­ple in and around the vil­lage’

grate­ful to the doc­tors and Hus­sain, who is the man be­hind the hos­pi­tal.”

Shan­tiben, 65, says her life has also changed be­cause of Hus­sain’s hos­pi­tal. Scrap­ing to­gether a liv­ing by do­ing sundry jobs, she suf­fered from se­vere arthri­tis but couldn’t af­ford treat­ment. “One of my neigh­bours told me about the hos­pi­tal and how they treat peo­ple some­times free of cost so I came here,” she says.

Doc­tors op­er­ated on her knees and now she’s look­ing for­ward to go­ing home. “I had vis­ited sev­eral hos­pi­tals in the city. But be­cause I was un­able to af­ford the huge hos­pi­tal fees, I had given up. But here, the surgery was done al­most free of charge.”

Ex­plain­ing the fee struc­ture, Dr Kartick says, “Those com­ing to the hos­pi­tal can pay what­ever their fam­i­lies can af­ford. We do not deny treat­ment if the pa­tient is too poor to pay.”

On av­er­age, a pa­tient pays Rs150 as con­sul­ta­tion for rou­tine or­thopaedic surgery. In other pri­vate hos­pi­tals the con­sul­ta­tion fee is more than Rs800. Also, un­like other hos­pi­tals, there is no OT (op­er­at­ing theatre) charges and no nurs­ing or room charges. Ex­cept for the nurs­ing staff, ward boys and some ju­nior staff, all oth­ers in­clud­ing the doc­tors of­fer their ser­vices free of charge.

Ini­tially, Hus­sain was op­posed to charg­ing fees and wanted it to be run as a char­i­ta­ble hos­pi­tal. But Dr Kartick says, “I rea­soned with him, telling him that in the long run, treat­ment would suf­fer and com­pro­mis­ing on qual­ity makes no sense. So it was de­cided that though the treat­ment in the hos­pi­tal will be charge­able to cover its run­ning costs, pa­tients will be told the cost of treat­ment and asked to pay what­ever they can.

“At present, we have 35-40 pa­tients daily and ev­ery month we per­form as many surg­eries. The hos­pi­tal is still to grow and we have elab­o­rate ex­pan­sion plans, with more op­er­at­ing the­atres. I am glad we have a build­ing and just need struc­tural changes to help out with pro­jec­tions and carry cer­tain mod­i­fi­ca­tions.”

He adds, “More than any­thing, I’m happy for Hus­sain. He is begin­ning to smile now! His son has taken charge of the hos­pi­tal’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and has be­come a re­spon­si­ble person.”

Hus­sain smiles. “I’m truly happy now,” he says. “See­ing the smiles on peo­ple’s faces makes me feel that I’ve done some­thing in my life.”

Adarsh Hos­pi­tal, which is the re­sult of Hus­sain’s hard work

Dr Kartick Shukla is work­ing with Hus­sain to run the hos­pi­tal

Hus­sain in­vested all his sav­ings in the project

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