The atmosphere at Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital in Parel was electric on Thursday, as Dr Prakash Baba Amte, one of the pioneers of rural medical services in Maharashtra, delivered the keynote address to a packed auditorium at ‘Confluence’, the inter-collegiate under-graduate conference of the college.
Dr Prakash Baba Amte with his wife Mandakini at KEM hospital on Thursday. Dr Amte delivered the keynote address at the ‘Confluence 2015’, an all-India undergraduate medical conference organised by Seth GS Medical College and KEM hospital, Parel Hemant Padalkar dna
Dr Amte urged the students to serve in rural areas of the state voluntarily for at least a year. He said: “Every doctor should consider rural service for a year, and if not, at least practise ethically in the urban set-up throughout life. Also, they should ensure that they charge poor patients subsidised fees for treatment.”
In 1972, Baba Amte took his family for a day out to Bhamragad district, around 250 kilometres away from Anandvan. “A one-day picnic to the district changed my life forever. Baba wanted to start working for tribals in the area. His eyes sparkled when I told him that I will take up the cause,” said Dr Amte.
Then there was no looking back. Dr Amte, a general surgeon, shifted to the jungles of Hemalkasa with his wife Mandakini, an anesthesiologist. “Earlier, the Madiya Gond tribals, who barely wore a loin cloth, were scared of us ‘civilized’ persons. We built a small hut in the jungle and started roaming around the area. The tribals had blind faith in black magic and animal as well as human sacrifice. Initially, it was tough to break the ice and get patients to come to us,” he said.
Over 43 years, Dr Amte and his wife Dr Mandakini faced numerous trials and tribulations, but kept working diligently with the tribes. “Fractures and bone dislocations ruled the roost amongst the tribals, but there were no X-ray machines to detect them. I used to twist their limbs to monitor bone friction, and their tolerance for pain is immense. Another time, I gave hundred stitches to a victim of bear attack, which he sustained without anaesthesia. Later, we also started conducting cataract surgeries. It was extremely heartening to see old women wearing spectacles walking away with better vision,” he said.
What began as a clinic in a small hut has transformed into a massive hospital christened ‘Lok Biradri Prakalp’, that caters to up to 40,000 patients every year. A school near to the hospital teaches up to 650 tribal children.
“Who would have imagined that two students from the school will eventually graduate to become doctors. One of them is a gynaecologist serving in the nearby rural hospital and another student has studied to become a paediatrician. If given the motivation and moral support, even the most destitute in the society can create wonders,” he said.