Mumbai

Family runs free clinics for underprivileged in Powai

Vikas Goel (43), Senior Director with IDFC Bank with over 16 years of experience in the banking industry, always nurtured a desire to do his bit for society. Earlier, while working at Standard Chartered, he was involved in several social initiatives through their corporate social responsibility activities, but this was not a regular feature. “I wanted the ‘act of giving’ to become institutional and a regular part of my life,” says Mr. Goel.

While staying at Powai, he noticed that domestic help, drivers, security guards in the locality did not have access to affordable medical care. Whenever they, or their family members, fell sick, they would either avoid going to the doctor or end up visiting quacks. Even if they went to government dispensaries, the medicines were unaffordable.

This led to the idea of starting a clinic catering to the underprivileged where consultation and medicines for common ailments could be provided free of cost. He, along with his nutritionist-wife Seema and father-in-law Surinder Gupta, a retired banker, started ‘Sukrta’ (meaning a good deed in Sanskrit) Foundation, a not-for-profit in 2014, with a mission to support educational, medical and other needs of the underprivileged.

The first medical camp was organised in April 2015 in Powai and ever since, a free medical clinic is on every Thursday for two hours — from 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm — at Anoushka polyclinic at Raheja Vihar, Powai. Currently, three doctors (two general physicians/a diabetologist and a paediatrician) provide free consultation to patients and dispense free medicines. So far, the clinic has attended to over 7,800 patients.

“Every week, around 50 patients, mostly maids, security guards and construction workers, staying in and around Powai, queue up to see the doctor. These include people who have been ignoring ailments for long due to lack of money while others are on a repeat visit,” says Mr. Gupta, who along with Ms. Goel, manages the day-to-day affairs of the Foundation.

Most of the ailments the doctors at Sukrta’s clinic attend to are bodyaches, stomach and skin infections, and joint pain. There are also hypertension and diabetes patients. For the more serious ailments, patients go to doctors or hospitals of their choice. As of now, they do not have tie-ups for diagnostic tests either.

Hurdles along the way

Running a free medical clinic, however, was not easy. Finding a willing doctor was one of the biggest challenges. “It is an onerous job, especially as it involves dispensing medicines along with consultation and hence, most high-profile doctors believed it to be a waste of time,” says Mr. Goel.

Getting volunteers was another hurdle. “While many show interest, very few turn up.” They now have Sneha Lakshmanan, who has just completed her MBBS, Mansi Samudra, a Management Consultant, and Raj Kumar Modi, a retired businessman, working as volunteers.

Managing crowds also poses a problem. “There are always patients who come just to get free medicines,” says Sneha Lakshmanan, a volunteer.

Paucity of funds is another challenge. It costs Sukrta ₹75 per patient, which includes the doctor’s fee and medicines. The founders regularly put in their own money but others have come forward to support the cause. As a philanthropic gesture, the owner of the polyclinic doesn’t charge them a rental. “Considering Powai’s hefty real estate prices, this has significantly reduced our burden,” says Ms. Goel. “We buy medicines from wholesalers in Mumbai and Chennai. This also reduces the cost.”

A wider footprint

The immense response prompted Mr. Goel to talk to neighbouring societies to allow them to start similar clinics in their complexes as a ‘housing society social responsibility’ programme on the lines of CSR, for maids, drivers and security guards working there. Many such clinics were started in and around Powai in 2016 but these had to be stopped as some residents raised objections. “Although Sukrta was sponsoring these clinics, people cited security issues as they were worried about anyone other than their domestic help entering their premises,” says Raj Kumar Modi, a volunteer.

But since May 2016, Sukrta has been running its clinic on the first Wednesday of every month at Lake Florence housing society in Powai. “We are in talks with other housing societies and are hopeful of making these clinics a regular feature there,” says Mr. Gupta.

Mohammad Warsi (40), who works as a security guard at Lake Florence society has been making use of the facility for the past six months. “I used to have constant headaches along with nausea, but refrained from going to a doctor due to my financial constraints. When it became unbearable I consulted a doctor nearby, but there was no relief,” he says. The doctor at the Sukrta-run clinic diagnosed him with high blood pressure. He now gets free medicines and a monthly check-up at the clinic and there is “considerable improvement in health.”

Upendra Thakur, another watchman from a society nearby was diagnosed with diabetes, untreated for years. “Not only do I get free medicines, but I also get dietary advice, which has improved my health immensely.”

Sukrta plans to start clinics in civic-run schools in the area and help spread awareness about healthcare among students. “Our endeavour is not to just provide services to the underprivileged but also motivate others, through our initiatives, to take care of the community,” says Mr. Goel.

Snapshot

Sukrta Foundation

Founders: Vikas Goel, Surinder Gupta, Seema Goel

Founded: 2014

Funding: Donations

Employees: 3 volunteers

Web: www.sukrta.org

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 10:45:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/family-runs-free-clinics-for-underprivileged-in-powai/article21292427.ece

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