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Independence Day

Meet Ladakh’s First Woman Gynaecologist And Padma Awardee Dr Tsering Landol

Born in 1945 to a family of farmers in Leh, Dr Landol was among the first few members of her family who got a chance to go to a school and get formal education

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New Delhi: Watching her mother being isolated from the family during childbirth and being fed in separate vessels became a core memory for little Tsering Landol. So much so that the young girl decided to break free of such traditions and superstitions and change the mindset of society. This is the story of the commitment and perseverance of a 79-year-old woman, Dr Tsering Landol, empowering women with the right healthcare and providing them freedom from superstitions and ill health for over four decades now.

Born in 1945 to a family of farmers in Leh, Dr Landol was among the first few members of her family who got a chance to go to a school and get formal education. Dr Landol didn’t stop there. She went on to become the first female gynaecologist in Ladakh region.

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In an interview with NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India, Dr Landol recalled,

My grandfather’s half-brothers used to say you cannot become a doctor and conduct deliveries. You will upset our deity. But my father was far-sighted. He and my grandfather were determined to make me a doctor and gave me permission to pursue a career in medicine.

After graduating in Srinagar, Dr Landol joined the district hospital in 1979 and had to work under severe conditions, overcoming sub-zero temperatures. Dr Landol said,

I conducted various home deliveries because heating systems didn’t exist in hospitals. I would carry a vacuum, gloves and other essential medicines from the hospital to the home. We had to store water in a drum because there was no running water. The water would freeze so we would first break ice. A kerosene heater was used to warm water. Also, coal was burned to create heat in the operation theater. People were so poor that they couldn’t afford clothes for newborns and doctors had to get clothes to save them from hypothermia.

Conducting deliveries was only á part of the challenge. To begin with, Dr Landol had to educate women on the need for institutional deliveries, and maternal health and eradicate the social stigma associated with women talking about their health problems. There was practically no awareness about hygiene and nutrition for women, especially pregnant women.

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It took a sustained effort, regular visits to far-flung areas, and medical camp after camp to mobilise people and create awareness. Dr Landol’s own empathy, special focus on communicating skills and gaining the confidence of people, and ability to understand language, conditions and habits too helped change the landscape of women’s health in Ladakh.

Dr Landol has been instrumental in promoting family planning and institutional deliveries amongst a conservative Buddhist population. Dr Landol said,

It took a long time for people to understand and accept that they should maintain a gap of at least two years between the births of two children. I convinced them that family planning will improve their health. They can take better care of fewer children and also provide for their education.

Ladakh has a sparse population and this worked in Dr Landol’s favour, she believes. The patients too supported her in propagating the information and health-seeking behavior. Dr Landol opines “education” is the key to good health. She educated pregnant women on eating a balanced diet. She explained,

We tell pregnant women to ensure they eat for two people – themselves and their child. They should take frequent and small meals. A balanced diet is required which means your plate should have protein, vitamins, calcium, and other nutrients to cover up for the deficiencies.

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Interestingly, Dr Landol never charged a fee from her patients because she “didn’t want to exploit somebody’s problem”. She said,

As it is said, there is enough for everyone’s needs but not for one’s greed. I had enough to fill my stomach so I never felt the need to charge a fee. My salary was sufficient.

For her selfless service to the people of Ladakh, Dr Landol was been conferred with the Padma Shri in 2006 and the Padma Bhushan in 2020. But have these awards made any difference in her life or work? Dr Landol said,

People here have no idea about the Padma awards. While I appreciate these awards, from the very beginning I wanted to bring about a change. It took me the first five years to motivate women to come to the hospital.

Women in Ladakh are now empowered. They don’t look for a place to hide anymore when it comes to seeking healthcare, says Dr Landol. It’s the fruit of her relentless efforts to overcome cultural taboos, superstitions during pregnancy and childbirth and uplift women.

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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of 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 healthy India.

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