New Delhi: 69-year-old Dr Arunoday Mondal, a resident of Kolkata’s Lake Town, is a doctor who won the Padma Shri award in 2020 for treating patients free of cost for over two decades in remote areas of Sundarbans. Dr Mondal treats 12,000 patients on an average every year and provides them free medicines at a charitable hospital established by him in Hingalganj area in Sundarbans near the India-Bangladesh border. The medical practitioner from West Bengal travels to Hingalganj, a six hours journey of around 90 km from his Kolkata residence, twice a week to “fill the gaps of treatment at government hospitals”.
According to Dr Mondal, who is also known as ‘Sundarban ke Sujan’ he ‘easily’ treats more than 250 people, 80 per cent of whom are poor, every weekend. The treatments range from heart to eye ailments, thyroid, gynaecology and paediatrics. He also arranges for medicines and conducts medical camps and blood donation drives.
After getting an MBBS degree from the National Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, he worked as a physician at Dr. B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children. Dr Mondal quit his job in 1980 and started treating patients from his chamber at Birati.
Talking about his inspiration behind working for the people of Sundarbans, Dr Mondal said that he was born and brought up in the rural Sundarbans in an underprivileged family, hence he simply wishes to give back to his community through his knowledge.
I was born in 1953 in Chandrakhali Panchayat area of Hingalganj block of Sundarbans. I had four brothers and five sisters. I studied at Chandrakhali Shiksha Niketan established by my father and grandfather. After being fortunate enough to attend medical school and become a doctor, I have been serving the people of my community for more than four decades and my main medical area is the Sundarbans itself.
Dr Mondal says that being a former resident of Sundarbans, he is quite aware of the type of diseases the people of the area are prone and vulnerable to and knows exactly what can work for them.
If you wish to know the health hazards faced by Sundarbans, you must understand the history and geography of the place first, he tells NDTV.
Dr Mondal explains that Sundarbans is spread over 100 islands and the people are living and making their livelihood over 35 islands. It is classically divided into two sections – remote (the area adjacent to the forest and Bay of Bengal) and peripheral areas. Remote Sundarbans is far away from the block town and peripheral is adjacent to the mainland. Due to lack of electricity and other amenities like supply of drinking water as well as the road connectivity being very poor, the people suffer from different types of diseases here.
These include water-borne disease like Gastroenteritis, worm infestations, typhoid, Hepatitis and various other such diseases. They also suffer from airborne diseases like chronic cough and cold, and bronchial asthma, at the same time they also suffer from various skin diseases because of the salinity of the river water. Most of the women are engaged in catching prawns from the river throughout the day. Due to the exposure for a long time to the salty water, they suffer from various skin diseases and at the same time, they are bound to drink tubewell water which is saline in nature and also highly contaminated from arsenic. So arsenic poisoning is also prevalent in that area. Salinity has also led to a rise in undiagnosed Hypertension in the area.
He further says that a large number of patients are also suffering from Hyperthyroidism and according to my observation, it is due to the consumption of excessive common salt in lieu of iodised salt. When it comes to the health conditions of females, they have Aneamia, and malnutrition due to a lack of intake of nutritious and potent fortified food. Children, on the other hand, are suffering from severe malnutrition, more than 50 per cent are suffering from stunted growth because of less nutritious food, lack of protein supplements and lack of knowledge.
Talking about the way forward for healthcare in Sundarban, Dr Mondal said that he will continue to do his work despite the long commute.
I can understand that expectations of people will rise since I am a Padma Shri awardee now and I might get many more patients. I will continue to serve them to the best of my abilities. I am not looking for any kind of government aid despite the recognition. I have been serving people single-handedly without any government help for over 20 years, he said.
However, Dr Mondal says that the government needs to step up their efforts for the health and well-being of the people in Sundarbans by setting up outdoor clinics at the island and also ensuring proper staff in the only government hospital of the area.
The government needs to try to improve and reach these remotest people through their healthcare system. I think in these small islands, government should organise a medical team, comprising a doctor, a nursing staff and two paramedical staff. On each island, there should be 2-3 outdoor clinics where regularly the doctors visit and if the people of Sundarbans get medical attention in the first instance, there will be no need for hospitalisations. If the government thinks that a super speciality government hospital at the block level is sufficient enough to treat all the people, I don’t agree with that because people from remote areaS are very poor and they can’t reach the block town because it is very costly. Even when they reach the block hospital, there are infrastructural deficiency, no doctors, no nursing staff and the quantity and quality of medicines they get through government supply is very low, Dr Mondal suggested.
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