A doctor who is happy to be paid ‘peanuts’

Sunday Read: Dr Fuad Halim is known for his compassionate medical practice and is providing dialysis for a paltry amount at Kolkata Swasthya Sankalp hospital

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Kolkata: At a time when big multispecialty hospitals in Kolkata are busy adding additional charges to their patients’ bills even for OPD consultations, a doctor in his humble dispensary right in the heart of Kolkata has been tirelessly conducting dialysis for only Rs 50. Unbelievable, but true. The pocket pinch for dialysis at his hospital – Kolkata Swasthya Sankalp (KSS), is much lower than what you might shell out for a packet of cigarettes.

Meet doctor Fuad Halim, who also is the spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Dr Halim has been generously treating patients at KSS, ever since the nationwide lockdown was imposed.

KSS is a five-bed hospital, minus all the frills that often gives an astronomical shot to one’s medical bill. Attached to Dr Halim’s residence on Dr Md Ishaque Road, it also functions as the only low-cost standalone dialysis centre in the region.

Dialysis for Rs 50 (0.67 $)

Dr Halim informed that over 2,000 patients had undergone dialysis at his chamber since March-end. However, he maintained Covid19 and the lockdown had made things difficult for his patients, who are all from the financially weaker sections of society.

“During this period, our patients are having to pay a lot of money for transport to get here. Hence, we decided to bring down the cost of dialysis from Rs 350 to only Rs 50 (0.67 $),” he says.

On average, he and his team comprising three doctors and technicians conduct at least 40 dialyses per day. However, he admitted that the rush at KSS has increased in the last few months.

Why the sudden rush at KSS?

This is because of the nominal price being charged for a procedure that on a normal day costs around Rs 1,200 or Rs 1,500. Thanks to the pandemic, most city hospitals have raised their price to above Rs 2,000.

“The price at which we are offering quality service at a time when the common man is facing an acute financial crisis and the discrimination that many are having to face in hospitals is making not just the poor, but also patients from the middle-class rush to us,” said Dr Halim to eNewsroom.

He maintained: “Also the fact that we don’t discriminate between Covid and non-Covid patients is making many choose us. Let me make it clear, the patients recovering from Covid-19, are facing huge discrimination while availing medical treatment. However, we at KSS believe health is a right, hence we are treating any patient who comes to us.”

He added that he and his team follow all the necessary precautions while treating patients. Also, understanding the importance of sanitisation, the entire unit along with its pipeline is sterilised not once but twice a week (Wednesday and Sunday).

dr halim dialysis kolkata swasthya sansthan KSS treatment healthcare medical facility covid-19 lockdown
Dr Fuad Halim offers dialysis at Rs 50 (0.67 $) during pandemic

Low-cost treatment not just during the lockdown

Dr Halim, son of Hashim Abdul Halim, the West Bengal speaker for 29 consequtive years and holds the record of being the longest-serving speaker of any Indian state, has grown up with the political orientation that health is basic human right.

“I have always believed that healthcare is a right which the poor cannot be denied. It was this ideology that made me set up KSS in 2008, with the support of my friends. My patients are poor. And I try my best to provide quality treatment to them at the minimal price,” asserts the doctor.

Maths behind low cost treatment

When asked how KSS is able to provide dialysis for just Rs 50, Dr Halim explained: “We are able to do so because a good number of people with golden hearts are willing to help us achieve this mission. Also, if you have a look at our unit, you will realise that it’s very basic. We don’t have air conditioning or a lift. In this way we cut the recurring costs which normally adds to the burden of patients in the form of inflated bills.” KSS has around 60 members. Dr Halim is one of the founders. “The technicians are paid. Our group bears the financial burden as we look upon this initiative as a social responsibility.”

A doctor who loves ‘peanuts’ for fees

Dr Halim is one of those rare doctors who is happy even if his patient’s have only sweets, vegetables and even peanuts to offer him as fees or as a token of gratitude.

“He is not a doctor but a messiah, not just for me but for all of us who can’t afford to go to big hospitals for treatment but dream of getting first-class medical attention. Fees are not his concern,” said 52-year-old Mehrunissa Khatoon, one Dr Halim’s patients.

She recalled: “Most of those visiting him are poor like me. I have seen people handing over pumpkin, gourd, bundiya and even groundnuts to him.” Khatoon added, “Doctor Sahab bohut acchey hainSirf abhi nahi, wo hamesha humara khayal rakhtey hai. Unkey liye paisa bada nahi haihumara sehat bada hai (Dr Halim is a nice person. He takes care of his patients. For him money doesn’t matter, but our health does).”

A customary glance through his posts on Facebook revealed the doctor’s joy when he gets these small tokens of gratitude. He often shares pictures of the humble offerings, captioning it ‘collection of the day’. In one of his posts, he wrote, “Collection of the day. Boonde by the father of a grateful dialysis patient. Reflection of a father’s commitment to his son through affection.”

Covid-19, the leveller

The pandemic has clearly made it obvious that the Indian Healthcare system is completely fractured explained Dr Halim. Speaking, about the healthcare crisis that the common man is facing every day he pointed out: “As we can see, the private healthcare facilities have been a complete failure in providing medical relief to anyone. They simply had no solution neither the infrastructure to handle it. Many have shut down, or are partly operational as their staff is unable to come from the districts.”

“Given this scenario, even well-off people affected with Covid-19 had to seek medical help from government-run hospitals. In doing so, they got a taste of what the poor man has to endure under normal circumstance. This pandemic has been a leveller, I believe. And I guess, after witnessing this healthcare crisis, it’s high time that we force any government in power to better the public healthcare system”, he added.

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