Sabir Hussain/New Delhi
A doctor’s fee for the price of a small packet of chips? Sounds incredible, but in Andhra Pradesh’s Kadapa that is exactly what is happening, thanks to a young doctor’s burning desire to make healthcare accessible to the poor.
Dr Noori Parveen came to Kadapa, almost 400 km away from her hometown Vijaywada to study medicine at the Fathima Institute of Medical Sciences eight years ago. Today, she is blazing a trail with her model of affordable healthcare for the less privileged in her adopted city.
Hers is an unusual story of a young Muslim woman staying away from home and immersing herself in the service of the underprivileged. But she says she has been fortunate that her parents have been very understanding.
“My father trusts me a lot which means the world to me. And that’s the fuel that fires me to do what I do,” 29-year-old Dr Noori told Awaz-The Voice.
In February 2020, she opened a small clinic in a downmarket locality of Kadapa after taking a loan of Rs 5 lakh to treat people from the economically weaker sections. She charged only Rs 10 for each patient. Towards the end of the month, she was forced to shut her clinic due to the coronavirus outbreak but came back a week later amid the pandemic to serve the underprivileged.
Dr Noori Parveen at a health camp.
“I have spent eight years in Kadapa. I came to study medicine and after I finished my MBBS I decided to stay on here and do something for people who cannot afford to pay a minimum of Rs 200 or more to consult a doctor in a hospital,” she says.
There was some initial hesitancy among the locals who doubted her competency because she charged only Rs 10. Eventually, the response became so overwhelming that in March 2021 she expanded the scale of her operations and set up a 25-bed hospital in a three-storey building with a loan of Rs 20 lakh. The OPD charge is still Rs 10.
“I have to pay a rent of Rs 50,000 per month for the hospital. We now have orthopaedic, surgery, paediatric and gynaecology departments with senior doctors in charge. The consultancy charges continue to be Rs 10 from the patients and since most of them buy their medicines from my hospital and use its lab for tests there is enough money to keep afloat.”
She has ensured that costs do not go out of reach of her patients. “Our costs are concessional. For instance, a normal delivery costs something between Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 in other hospitals but we charge Rs 15,000.”
After her MBBS degree, Dr Noori did a Fellowship in Critical Care Medicine and worked at a corporate hospital for a while. And could have charted a different course for herself. So what spurred her to set up a clinic and then a hospital?
“I was working at a corporate hospital after I graduated as a doctor and saw how difficult it was for the poor to arrange money for their treatment. It was then that I decided to do something on my own to help the less-privileged.”
The consultants at her hospital are all senior doctors because doctors of her age are still trying to build their careers, get married, or pursue higher education. The consultants are on the same wavelength with her and that helps keep treatment costs low.
It wasn’t by design that she began her journey as a doctor for the poor. It’s in the genes, perhaps. Dr Noori says that her father’s sense of compassion has rubbed onto her.
Dr Noori Parveen during a relief distribution drive in Kadapa.
“My grandfather Noor Mohammad who was a grassroots leader in the 1980s was into social service. My father Md. Maqbool has also been in social service. That inspired me to do something for society. And I thought that if I become a doctor I could help the less privileged. I have put my heart and soul into this service. It is as if Allah has shown me the way of how to proceed. Patients started coming to my clinic because they liked the way I behaved and treated them. In due course, they referred others to me.”
Her commitment to her patients means she spends most of her time in her hospital.
“I have cousins in Kadapa with whom I sometimes stay but I practically spend 24 hours in the hospital and sleep there most of the time. My cousins help in running the lab and the pharmacy in the hospital.”
She has built up a great rapport with her patients and even though many of them are treated by other doctors at the hospital, they insist on meeting her.
“Some patients insist that they must see me because they say it simply makes them feel better,” the young doctor says.
She was the first one in the family to become a doctor. Her younger sister followed in her footsteps and is now a dermatologist. Her brother, who is the youngest sibling, too graduated recently as a doctor.
“My parents supported me and my siblings and that made it possible for us to become doctors. My father is a man of very modest means. My siblings and I are his only assets," she says of her father who is a pharmacist. The family still lives in a rented accommodation in Vijayawada.
Dr Noori so obviously loves what she is doing although she sometimes has to deal with patients or attendants who can be unreasonable.
“You can’t satisfy everyone. There will always be someone who will have some issue or the other. But those are very few and far between. I am very satisfied with the way things have progressed so far,” she says.
Dr Noori Parveen at a felicitation function.
Unlike the second wave of the pandemic, the third wave did not affect the hospital’s operations much.
Dr Noori’s love of service has also led her to set up an organisation called ‘Inspiring Healthy India’ which conducts programmes to enlighten and inspire children and youth about education and health.
Her work has been recognized and she has been felicitated by several organizations.
“What’s the point of our lives if we do not try to help those less fortunate than us?” she asks.
No one can argue with that.