Rendezvous with Dr. Arunoday Mondal

Dr. Deep Satiar, Dr. Akanksha Mahajan & Anushka Gaikwad

Dr. Arunoday Mondal, a renowned physician from West Bengal, who was conferred with Padma Shri award in 2020 in the field of medicine for the exceptional contributions towards serving the marginalised communities. He 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, with the treatments ranging 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.

In early 2000 Dr. Arunoday Mondal set up a free medical service centre at his own residence at Chandanpur, Sundarban, which was subsequently shifted to this present site on 27th August, 2006 for rendering best medical assistance to the local people. Since then, “SUJAN” is steering ahead with expansion in multidirectional ushering ventures like education, social service etc.

1.Your journey from being a physician to founding Sujan Sundarban reflects a profound commitment to serving underserved communities. What inspired you to make this transition, and what were the initial challenges you faced?

Ans: My journey from being a physician to founding Sujan Sundarban is deeply rooted in my upbringing in the Sundarbans, where I witnessed the struggles of the poor and downtrodden. The inspiration to transition came from a strong sense of social responsibility and a desire to do something meaningful for my community. The initial challenges were significant, including the remoteness of the location, financial constraints, and the absence of government support in establishing the charitable health unit. However, the commitment to serving the marginalized fueled my determination to overcome these obstacles.

2.What systemic challenges within the Indian healthcare system have you encountered that hinder equitable access to quality healthcare for all citizens?

Ans: The challenges within the Indian healthcare system, particularly in the Sundarbans region, are multifaceted and deeply entrenched. One of the prominent challenges is the severe lack of government health facilities, leaving the local population with limited access to essential medical services. This scarcity forces individuals to resort to alternative, often unreliable sources such as quack doctors and spurious drugs, resulting in compromised health outcomes.

The absence of modern civilized life with proper medical treatment exacerbates the situation, compelling people to seek solutions from sources that may not adhere to ethical medical practices. This not only jeopardizes individual health but also perpetuates a cycle of inadequate healthcare within the community.

Moreover, the geographical remoteness of the Sundarbans, coupled with the lack of infrastructure like electricity, scarcity of purified drinking water, and poor road conditions, further isolates the population from mainstream healthcare resources. As a consequence, individuals face significant barriers in reaching qualified medical professionals and accessing necessary treatments.

Sujan Sundarban recognizes these systemic challenges and strives to bridge the healthcare gap by providing modern medical advancements and ethical treatments. By establishing the charitable hospital, the organization aims to offer a reliable and accessible healthcare option for those who would otherwise be unable to consult qualified doctors or afford necessary medications. The mission is not only to treat illnesses but also to address the root causes of health disparities in the region, advocating for systemic improvements within the broader Indian healthcare framework.

3.How do you navigate the resource constraints inherent in serving marginalized communities, and what strategies have proven most effective in achieving your goals?

Ans: Serving the marginalized communities of the Sundarbans amidst resource constraints requires a multifaceted and strategic approach. The establishment of the charitable health unit at my ancestral house in 2000, funded initially with personal resources, reflects a commitment to self-reliance. Subsequently, the organization purchased land and constructed a two-storied building for Sujan without relying on government assistance. This approach has allowed Sujan Sunderban to maintain autonomy and flexibility, ensuring that the mission is driven by the needs of the community rather than external bureaucratic constraints.

Community engagement and support have been pivotal in sustaining the operations of Sujan Sunderban. Friends and donors have played a crucial role in providing financial and in-kind contributions, enabling the organization to expand its reach and impact. Their commitment reflects a shared vision for improving healthcare access in the region.

In terms of specific medical initiatives, Sujan Sunderban organizes regular medical check-up camps, where local residents below the poverty line receive free consultations and medicines. This approach ensures that even with limited resources, immediate healthcare needs are addressed, promoting preventive care and early detection.

Furthermore, the charitable hospital’s registration under the Clinical Establishment Act 1998 of the Government of West Bengal has facilitated collaborations and partnerships. These partnerships, along with periodic specialized medical camps, leverage governmental and organizational resources to maximize impact. The camps include cardiac check-up camps, eye check-up camps, diabetic detection-prevention camps, and gynecological check-up camps, addressing diverse healthcare needs within the community.

The commitment to education through the Kolahal Education Centre demonstrates a holistic approach to community well-being. The center provides free education, financial aid, and free books to deserving students from the backward community in the Sundarbans. By investing in education, Sujan Sunderban aims not only to address immediate healthcare needs but also to break the cycle of poverty and empower future generations.

Moreover, the organization has taken proactive steps to extend its services beyond Roypara, Sahebkhali, reaching other islands of Sundarbans, including Kumirmari, Patharpratima, Baruipur, Malancha. This geographical expansion demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and ensuring that marginalized populations across the region receive essential medical services.

4.What advice would you give to medical students who aspire to engage in similar community-based healthcare initiatives, especially in resource-constrained settings?

Ans: Embarking on community-based healthcare initiatives in resource-constrained settings requires a combination of passion, adaptability, and a strong community-oriented mindset. Immersing oneself in the community, collaborating with local leaders, and leveraging existing resources are essential. Focus on preventive care, health education, and sustainable practices tailored to the specific needs of the community.

5.As a physician who has treated countless patients in remote areas, what are some essential skills or areas you would recommend medical students focus on to effectively address the healthcare needs of marginalized populations?

Ans: The primary skill that you would require is generosity and humanitariasm before working on the clinical skills. I would like to quote an incident about another padma shree awaredee, Dr. Ravi Kannan, an eminent oncosurgeon from Assam. So, firstly, I would like you to ask yourself a question as a medical practioner:

“Everytime you have prescribed any treatment to a patient, how many times did you care to follow up whether or not patient was able to buy it?”

I am sure most of us don’t practice in such manner. But when Dr. Ravi Kannan came across such patient, he decided to create his very own setup where treatment and medications could be given for free to all the poor patients who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

6.In the contemporary era, several medical students in our country are planning to settle abroad, what is your take on that?

Ans: To be honest, I personally feel that we are humans before being doctors and as humans, we have a certain social obligation, and we must try to pay back to our community, as much as possible. Our desire to practice medicine should not be driven by materialism but the desire to serve.

7.Your work in Sundarban sheds light on the disparities in healthcare access between rural and urban areas. From your perspective, what policy reforms or structural changes are needed at the national or regional level to bridge this gap and ensure healthcare equity across all regions of India?

Ans: This question reminded me of being a part of “Padma doctors’ congregation 2022”. I and all the other Padma doctors were asked about our suggestions regarding the same. One of the topics that we discussed is still really prominent in my memory, which was about whether or not our medical education system should be more focused towards super speciality. Well, I believe, it shouldn’t, it absolutely shouldn’t. I firmly believe that our primary focus should be on strengthening our primary healthcare system so that the diseases can be addressed and eliminated from their very roots. Sometimes, it gets really disheartening to see most of the medical population so much focused on being superspecialists in the contemporary world that they don’t care to work at developing the basic skills that can prove to be really vital in serving the community.

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