True to their roots: US-based Indian doctor couple come to India every year to treat poor patients

By Raqib Hameed Naik,

Hyderabad: Not many people would consider giving up their comfortable, albeit hectic schedule in the US and traveling to India to treat poor patients at their own cost. But a couple from Chicago has been doing exactly this for the past four years.

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Dr Sabiha Gafoor examining patient in a free health camp

Dr. Sabiha Gafoor, 58 a pediatrician and her husband Dr. Mohammad Abdul Gafoor, 65 an internal and family medicine, from Chicago have been visiting India every year since 2012 to treat poor patients in rural and slum areas of India by camping for weeks altogether.

Dr Sabiha Gafoor was born to Abid Ali Usmani a forest ranger, whereas Dr M.A Gafoor was born to Mohammad Mehtab Ali, an employee in Post and Telegram Department, both in Hyderabad.

After completing their primary and secondary education in local Hyderabad based schools, Dr. Sabiha graduated in medicine from Gandhi Medical College in Hyderabad in 1980 whereas Dr. MA Gafoor graduated from Osmania University in 1972. Later, both moved to United States for higher education and after completion of their residency, they settled in Chicago with a daughter and son.

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Dr. Sabiha has been practicing in primary health care clinics in Chicago and also into adolescent medicine and specialty care clinics. She is presently working in Cocounty Emergency Department of Pediatrics, supervising the residents and teaching the medicine students and participating in research projects.

Dr. MA Gafoor is also practicing internal and family medicine in Chicago.

The couple first came for treating poor patients in India in year 2012, with a US-based Indian charity organization, Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC), which conducts an annual India Health Initiative for treating poor patients in India for free.

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Dr Mohammad Abdul Gafoor examining patients.

“We always wanted to do something for our community back in India, but it was through IMRC founder, Manzoor Ghori, that we got motivated by the work, he was doing for people in India,” says Dr. Sabiha Gafoor.

The India Health Initiative was started by IMRC in 2010.Every year doctors from the US volunteer for this health initiative by rendering their services free of cost. Since its inception, the organization has successfully conducted seven India Health Initiatives comprising of medical camps across different rural areas, poor localities and slums in India.

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Dr. Sabiha and M.A Gafoor have treated thousands of patients in three heath initiatives; they have participated in with IMRC to work in Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Rajasthan and Haryana.

“Due to poverty in India, a major chunk of population doesn’t have resources to have access to quality medical care or even simple medical care at all and it feels great in helping them by donating our own time, expense and money. Every year we come to India and feel more encouraging and pushing to keep helping in this cause,” says Sabiha.

Dr. MA Gafoor considers helping poor patients in India as a moral responsibility. “India is the country which modeled me, raised me and helped me to pursue my goal. I always had desire to comeback to India and serve people. Back in 2012, I expressed my wish to work for Indian community to my childhood friend Manzoor Ghori, who asked us to join their annual health initiative to which I happily obliged. My wife also agreed to come for the same mission and it is our joint effort to help poor,” says Dr. MA Gafoor.

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This year both the husband-wife travelled to Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh), Slum areas of Hyderabad and villages in Kozhikode district of Kerala to treat poor patients for free. Every day they used to examine and treated between 100 and 150 patients every day, often working 10 hours a day. “I came across variety of patients in the health camps from normal to serious diseases. Many of them have upset stomach, indigestion, joint pains, short breaths and also emphysema patients who smoke a lot and many with serious pulmonary diseases,” says Dr. M A Gafoor.

Briefing us about the work they have been doing in India, the doctor couple said, “Doing primary care here in India is totally different from what we do in United States. We just do the initial screenings and find out certain things and pick up and get the tests done, if necessary and provide them medicines which are free at our camps. The cases which require follow up; we compile them into a list and refer them to a local doctor.”

Dr. Sabiha feels that more is required to be done towards helping patients who are economically backward and lack access to quality health care.

“The community thinks that we are giving more but we feel, we can give much more than what we are giving them now,” she says.

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Explaining the level of satisfaction they get from volunteering for free health camps in India, both the doctors say, “No other work gives you more satisfaction than helping poor people. It is like a mental therapy for us. At the end of the day, when we examine and treat poor patients here in India, we feel much relaxed and peace in our lives may be due to their prayers.”

Dr. M A Gafoor emphasizes upon the need of doing a comprehensive study on diseases in different regions of India and feels that there is still a lot needed to be done by government, NGOs and individuals in health care sector in the country, so that it becomes accessible to everyone irrespective of his economic condition.

“Everyone in the country should have access to quality health care and if health care sector of country improves only then the other sectors can experience development. I think more and more Indian-origin doctors should come forward and spare some weeks every year to come and treat poor patients in India,” he says. “We both look forward to continue visiting India and give back to the community by rendering our medical expertise to the poor patients,” they added.


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