Extending a Helping Hand, Providing Free Healthcare

  • Aditya Sinha
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2016 3:00PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 12 2016 6:49PM
Extending a Helping Hand, Providing Free Healthcare

In 2012, when the teenaged children of Maryam (name changed) from Nowhatta were suffering from ‘end stage kidney disease’, also called ‘Stage V chronic kidney disease (CKD)’ or ‘kidney failure’, she thought of getting their kidneys transplanted which was possible only outside the State. Raising the family on her own had already been a challenge, now the disease had compounded her troubles.

She had no money for the emergency transplantation. But she didn’t give up. She sold off the house of her late husband to meet the expenses of the kidney transplantation but she couldn’t find the donor anywhere. She had to come back from Mumbai with a heavy heart and put her children on weekly dialysis which cost her around Rs 10000 per week. Just when the costly weekly dialysis was creating a millstone of debt around her neck, she heard of a Trust in Srinagar which was working for the underprivileged and needy patients.

In 2013, she contacted the Help Poor Voluntary Trust (HPVT), which has since then provided free of cost medicine for her ailing children. Later, it was only through the not-for-profit Trust that a “well-wisher” decided to bear the cost of weekly dialysis for both her children, saving the family from the agony and further destitution.

Similarly, Abdul Gaffar (name changed), who works as a labourer, had to sell his house in Kulgam at a throwaway price to afford a permanent pace-maker for his 23-year-old son. While the operation was successful, his son later developed some psychiatric disorder for which he needed daily medication. Living in a rented accommodation in Srinagar, Gaffar had no money to treat his ailing son.

Like in the case Maryam, HPVT came to the rescue of Gaffar, providing him free of cost medicine for more than a year.

 HUMBLE BEGINNING

HPVT began operating from a single-room in Sarai Bala in 1998 with just four people at its helm. Today the Trust has grown into a full-fledged organization. The Trust has more than 30 volunteers (non-salaried), 17 executive members (non-salaried) and 20 multi-purpose health workers who help the needy in the hospitals. In its head office near Haft Chinar, Srinagar, there are 15 other full-time employees.

People who have been associated with the organization say that the idea of the Trust came to them when they saw the poor infrastructure and negligence in government hospitals. “We were in a hospital when we realised that patients are not given the care they require. We felt they’re being neglected,” said an administrator who works in the Trust. “That’s when we decided to do something for patients, and for the poor and needy.”

“We saw poor people begging pharmacists for free or discounted medicines. And many times I saw poor patients were treated as beggars by these pharmacists,” said another HPVT administrator. “These incidents made us to do something for such needy people and then some tradesmen from Sarai Bala joined hands to start this Trust.”

In its journey of little more than a decade, the trust has come a long way and is now supplying free of cost medicines, providing manpower and other logistic support to government hospitals. The Trust has also set up HPVT counters in city hospitals where their volunteers assist the needy patients.

“Initially, for the lack of funds, we used to distribute fruits,” said Nissar Ahmad Katjoo, the present president of HPVT. “But a doctor told us instead of fruits, provide medicines, even if a single tablet, and we immediately worked on the idea.”

Today, the Trust donates wheelchairs, trolleys, baby warmers and other basic equipment required at various government hospitals. Eight of their ambulances could be seen stationed at various hospitals across the city.

Over the years The Trust has grown steadily. Presently, it has an annual budget of Rs 1.5 crore. It is operating from a two-storey building with more than six rooms and a large hall. In one room of the building on the ground floor, a long queue of patients can be seen waiting to get their monthly medicine.

Inside the compound, HPVT has set up a pharmacy which not only provides medicine at discounted rates to the poor and underprivileged, but also to the general masses as the management believes, “medical emergencies happen to everybody, irrespective of caste, creed, class etc.”

“We keep a margin of just 5 percent,” said the pharmacist on the counter. “That’s for our survival. Otherwise, we would have distributed free medicines.”

 VOLUNTARY SERVICE

n1

The Trust was appreciated for its voluntary service during the 2010 unrest and also during the 2014 floods when HPVT volunteers risked their lives to help the flood affected people. During 2010 agitation, their ambulances were frequently seen plying on the curfewed roads, shifting the injured to hospitals. Similarly, during September floods, they held day and night camps at various places to help the flood-hit residents of the Valley.

“It is one of the most trusted NGOs working selflessly in Kashmir,” said Dr Mohammad Salim Khan, HoD, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, who has been associated with the Trust for almost a year. Khan said the NGO was the first one to provide free ambulance services to the hospitals that added a new dimension to the healthcare system in the Valley.

The Trust works on a multi-pronged strategy. “In preventive, we hold camps fortnightly in various places and collect sample tests. We basically aware them about their health,” said Farooq Ahmad, the founder of HPVT, adding that the curative phase takes place mostly in hospitals.  “We have a team of volunteers in almost every hospital and they get emergency medicines for all patients irrespective of their backgrounds.”

There are 1200 registered patients with HPVT who get free medicines on monthly basis. “Most of these patients have chronic kidney diseases, followed by diabetic and depression patients,” says Khalid Wani, who works as Manager Accounts and Public Relations officer. The administrators have put a cap on the medicine a patient can get from the Trust pharmacy. “We don’t provide medicine for more than Rs 5000-7000 due to the financial constraints. We definitely want to help more, but we can’t at present due to financial constraints.”

The executive members verify all the cases at the time of registration. Once a case is found to be genuine, the needy patient is asked to bring the Below Poverty Ration card before registering with the Trust. The registered patients then get the monthly medical doses free of cost.

The management says it has a monthly income of just Rs 5 lakh, but they have expenses of more than Rs 10 lakh. “We cope up during Ramadhan,” informed Nisar Ahmad Bhat, manager promotional activities. “In that month we get good donations.” Nisar said the donations should ideally be made every month. “We have more than 50 lakh people living in Valley and if a family donates just Rs 1000 that will add up to crores and that will reflect in our work.”

The Trust makes sure that their help reaches all the needy patients. Bhat recounts a case when an Amarnath Yatri, who was lying unconscious on the roadside, was taken care of by the HPVT.

 Expanding Activities

With many projects in pipeline, the Trust is starting to expand their activities across the Valley. The Trust will soon have a fully-loaded trauma ambulance which will be available on call for needy patients. “The vehicle is worth 15 lakhs which has been donated by an NGO. However, we are adding vital equipment which will cost us around Rs 8 lakh,” said Farooq Ahmad.

The Trust is planning to train all its volunteers for basic healthcare facilities. Also, HPVT wants to set up a polyclinic and dialysis centre which will cater to the needs of kidney disease patients.

While the government run healthcare system in Kashmir is struggling to meet the expectations of people, the nonprofit organizations like HPVT, given their remarkable voluntary spirit, are quietly bringing some relief for all those ailing patients who have limited resources to afford quality treatment.