The self-appointed Robin Hood of healthcare, Medicine Baba has made it his vocation to collect medicines and distribute.
“If you have any medicine that you have no use for, and you want to help the poor, then please donate it,” booms the voice of Medicine Baba, through many a middle class suburbs of Delhi as he threads his way through the length and breadth of the Capital collecting unused medicines.
Over the past three years, 75-years-old Omkar Nath Sharma aka Medicine Baba has made it his job to trek from door to door, calling out to people to donate their surplus or unused medicines to him. He then distributes them to needy families, charitable hospitals and to those who cannot afford them otherwise.
"It feels great to see him in my locality, where he is asking for unused medicines. This is a commendable service and nobody else seems to be doing it," says Richa Jain, a resident of Malviya Nagar.
Dressed in an eye catching saffron kurta, on which the name of his medicine bank ‘Raahat Hi Raahat' is printed along with his two contact numbers (9250243298, 9971926518), Nath goes from door to door asking for medicines.
“The best places are the middle-class and lower middle-class neighbourhoods in government colonies,” says Omkar, explaining that he rarely receives donations from posh or wealthier areas.
Crippled at the age of 12, he walks around 5-6 kilometres per day avoiding the Metro Rail as he is unable to afford its fare. From the slums in Mangalapuri, where he lives in a dingy rented room with his wife and a 41-year old mentally challenged son, he travels by buses with the help of his senior citizen pass. In remote areas where buses do not ply, he simply walks.
He maintains a work schedule with weekends reserved for record keeping and weekdays spent on the field asking for medicines. Some colleges in South Delhi also support his mission, he says.
A retired blood bank technician from Kailash Hospital, Noida, Omkar realised the acute lack of accessibility of medicines, when a bridge collapsed in East Delhi in 2008, claiming the lives of two labourers and injuring 16 others. The local hospital administered basic first aid, but nothing else and the injured returned home to die, unable to afford the cost of treatment. That incident shook Omkar and he became determined to not let something like this happen again.
“Medicines are not manufactured to be dumped in garbage. They are essential lifesaving drugs. When a person wastes a medicine, a life gets wasted,” he says.
Despite having an experience of 27 years as a technician in a hospital, he had no idea of how to stock medicine. Once a lawyer advised him against it, stating it was sure to invite trouble. So, he decided to tie up with clinics such as Dr SL Jain's in Rajinder Nagar and Dr Naseem Meraz's at Matia Mahal. His collection is meticulously inspected there with details of all compositions and manufacturing.
Many people visit his bank regularly to take medicines. As he handed some tablets to Manju for her son's cough and something for her daughter's persistent diarrhoea, Manju says, “I prefer coming here compared to government hospitals. We get looked at almost immediately. There, I have to stay the entire the day.”
Meanwhile, he faced resistance from an unusual quarter -- his family. When he first announced his plans to the family, they were all pretty unhappy. “The family thought I was shaming them by basically begging,” he says. But over time, they have come to accept it, he adds.
According to a World Health Organization report, 649 million Indians have no access to medicines, which is 30-35 per cent of the total population. Based on Omkar's estimates, he collects medicines worth Rs 5-10 lakh per month. “One morning I got a strip of anti-cancer medicine that was worth Rs. 35,000,” he says. Apart from his medicine gathering efforts, Omkar has also been helping people with disabilities to get tricycles. This Samaritan certainly has walked that extra mile to help those in need.