Dr Ravikant Singh has passed up a lucrative private practice to take healthcare to the city’s poor.
Just off the dusty Mankhurd-Ghatkopar Highway stands Shivaji Nagar, a neighbourhood that’s home to a sprawling colony of Indian Oil employees. The area surrounding it is in a mess; perhaps it was intended to be.
Pockets such as Shivaji Nagar and Lallubhai Compound, a few kilometres away in Mankhurd, have over the years grown into a dumping ground of project-affected people (PAPs) from across the city: people who have lost their jhuggi-jhopdis to the city’s frenetic infrastructure development, and who have been resettled in eerily identical, ugly colonies where even a seasoned healthcare worker doesn’t dare to walk around without a handkerchief to his nose.
Among the hundreds of MHADA structures here stands Building no. 31, Dr Ravikant’s Singh’s official address. “Hospital mein kaam hai?” a voluntary guides asks, while offering to escort us. In 2010, in association with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Dr Singh converted a small room into a medical centre that caters to more than 1,00,000 residents from the area. Dr Singh and colleagues from his NGO, Doctors For You, run a a general out-patient department (OPD), dental OPD, immunisation centre, tuberculosis detection and treatment centre, and a WHO-recommended DOTS (directly observed treatment, short-course) centre to treat tubercolosis patients.
“India doesn’t need any more super-specialty doctors,” says Dr Singh, who holds an MD degree. “We need doctors who can effectively diagnose and treat, we need doctors who are willing to work in such areas,” he says, pointing to the compound teeming with people and decaying structures.
The 32-year-old spends a greater part of the year leading teams on medical relief work and training healthcare staff. Regarded as the country’s foremost medical relief specialist, he has worked in Assam’s violence-hit Kokrajhar district and flood-affected Andhra Pradesh.
It all started at the KEM Hospital canteen in 2007, where Dr Singh was pursuing a Masters in preventive and social medicine. His friends were discussing the outbreak of dengue in Mumbai. “There was a severe shortage of blood platelets. A dengue patient can die within minutes for lack of blood platelets. So, we kicked off a blood platelet donation drive,” he remembers. In 2009, he became the first Indian to win the SAARC Youth Award for his work during the 2008 Bihar floods, one of the worst India has ever seen. His team treated 1.3 lakh flood-affected in less than three months, till one of his colleagues, Dr Chandrakant Patil from KEM, died after being struck by lightning. A week later, Dr Singh was back in Bihar, where he stayed put for six months.
“I’d be lying if I say I’ve never been ambitious. But somewhere along the way, when I had to take a call between big money and public healthcare, Bihar happened, and I lost my friend. After that, there was no contest. The conflict inside me ended.” In a few months, Doctors For You is scheduled to set up another centre at Lallubhai Compound in association with the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation Ltd.
“For their own sake, the rich must ensure the poor have access to healthcare facilities,” he says. “TB, for instance, is no longer a poor man’s disease. A single patient can infect 15 people.”