In January 2021, when PDG Rajiv Pradhan from RI District 3132, along with Rotarians of the five Rotary clubs in Jalna, and one in Ambad, Maharashtra, felicitated Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope, as a Covid warrior for the exemplary Covid management the health department of the State had done under his leadership, the minister was once again briefed by the Rotarians about the multiple medical missions that Rotary has done in Africa and India. “Not that he was not aware of our work; as he comes from my city, Jalna, and I had told him several times in the past about Rotary’s medical missions, in 10 of which I have participated, in Africa and India, the minister said why don’t you think of doing one in Jalna,” says Dr Madhav Ambekar, an eye surgeon from
The Jalna Rotarians, and PDG Dr Pradhan, another veteran of Rotary’s medical missions, embraced this idea and the latter made a trip to Jalna subsequently to discuss with the Jalna Rotarians the nitty-gritty of organising such a camp. In the initial planning, “Rotarian doctors from Solapur, Nanded, Nagar, Satara and Panvel agreed to go to Jalna for 8-9 days. But just then, the second wave of Covid started, so there were many concerns and logistics problems. But our Rotarian surgeons from Jalna, as well as government doctors, rose to the occasion and the visiting doctors were requested not to venture to Jalna,” says Dr Pradhan.
With two Rotarian doctors — Dr Ambekar and Dr Suchitra Gadiya (an anaesthetist) from RC Jalna Central, taking all the administrative responsibilities, the camp which had to be initially delayed was finally held from Jan 4–10 after getting the go-ahead signal from RID 3132 DG Omprakash Motipawale, as the pandemic was still on.
The Rotarians never lost sight of the fact that the pandemic was still on, and because of awareness spread through the government machinery, specially the Asha workers, many people were aware of the camp and a huge crowd was expected. “So we did face a dilemma, but then requested those not in immediate need of surgical intervention to please stay away, and a secondary screening was done.” Here the doctors counselled and convinced patients who did not need immediate surgery that as the Covid threat was still on, they should not take a risk by coming to a hospital for something that could wait.
On the main challenges faced in organising a mega medical camp during a pandemic, Dr Ambekar says, “This was in convincing the government staff to do a door-to-door survey, when the health machinery was so tired, because all of their efforts had been directed only at Covid management and treatment.” With the government doctors requesting the Rotarians to convince and motivate the staff to contribute wholeheartedly for this camp, “we talked to them and convinced them to work enthusiastically for this camp.”
He says the real essence of this project was that “from the very beginning I made everybody aware that let’s consider this as not the project of a few clubs but the entire Rotary family of Jalna and all its clubs… we called ourselves ‘Rotary parivar’ hosting the medical camp. The money collected needed to be put somewhere so we put it in RC Jalna Trust.”
From the very beginning I made everybody aware that let’s consider this as not the project of a few clubs but the entire Rotary family of Jalna and all its clubs… we called ourselves ‘Rotary parivar’ hosting the medical camp.
— Dr Madhav Ambekar
member, RC Jalna
What the Rotarians were planning was really big and they put forth a budget estimate of ₹25 lakh, and were confident of collecting it as several industrial houses from Jalna, such as Jalna Steel Manufacturing Association, Kalash Seeds, Vikram Tea Processor and a number of Rotarians gave financial support. “A shot in our arm was two philanthropists who gave the major funding — Dhanshyam Goel and Satish Agarwal — telling us not to worry about the funds as their business houses would give us whatever was required,” said Dr Ambekar. The Annamrut Foundation, a community kitchen, provided food at subsidised cost on all days to all the patients and hospital staff.
The Rotarians led by Dr Ambekar, Dr Sumitra and Dr Christopher Mosses had a series of meetings with the district health officer, CEO of the zilla parishad, the district collector and the civil surgeon Dr Archana Bhonsle. The health minister assigned his OSD Dr Gaurishankar Chavan as a liaison person. The team had to deal with several issues, including paucity of equipment, surgical disposables, medical supplies, etc. The surgeries were planned in the Government Civil Hospital, Government Women’s Hospital and the Ambad sub-district hospital.
Patients were selected through an outreach programme, “as conducting an OPD with a large number of patients visiting, was not possible due to Covid.” All PHC staff of three talukas and ASHA workers went from house to house to identify patients awaiting surgical treatment for branches such as general surgery, ENT, gynaecology, orthopaedics dental and ophthalmology. Banners, posters and brochures were distributed by Rotarians in 20-plus PHCs.
Says Dr Sumitra, “The government machinery was amazingly co-operative and they realised that as private doctors are helping out, all possible help and assistance should be rendered and medical equipment supplies and medicines were arranged by the government. The crowd was well managed, the patients were properly guided so Covid protocol could be followed, and everyone were screened for Covid.”
An amount exceeding ₹4 lakh was left over and when we returned it to the sponsors they were flabbergasted. They said we fund so many charitable projects, but this is the first time we are getting some of the funds back.
— PDG Rajiv Pradhan
Most of the operating theatres in both the government hospitals were used by the doctors and “surgeons literally performed dawn-to-dusk operations to take the total number of surgeries to 673 in all. Actually, the government surgeons continued to operate for a few days afterwards too as patients had been identified,” says Dr Ambekar.
Dr Anil Thakre, who led the gynaec team, said that almost 43 cases of hysterectomy which had been pending for some time due to the Covid pandemic were performed by the team of surgeons.
Dr Sumitra adds that “the Rotarians of Jalna are now confident that they can now scale up such projects and plan similar projects elsewhere in District 3132 and beyond. PDG Pradhan adds, “I could not personally be present in Jalna due to Covid, but I was constantly in touch with them. Dr Ambekar, Dr Sumitra and all the club presidents did such wonderful work, that my absence wasn’t felt! The seeds of the medical projects sown by PRIP Rajendra Saboo, have now blossomed into a new and vibrant generation of dedicated Rotarians who can carry on or even surpass the work I have done in the last 23 years.”
Leaving the best part of the story for the end, though the Rotarians had initially planned for a budget of ₹25 lakh, they slashed it to ₹10 lakh as the size of the camp had to be curtailed due to the pandemic. “So we asked for ₹10 lakh from our sponsors, but the government machinery swung into action and the initial material which was not available was somehow got by the government, so we could control the project cost. An amount exceeding ₹4 lakh was left over and when we returned it to the sponsors. They were flabbergasted and they said we fund so many charitable projects, but this is the first time we are getting some of the funds back. Whatever you need in the future, please come to us!” said PDG Pradhan.