KRISHNAGIRI: It was an idea that germinated nearly four decades ago after a trip to Kodakarai in the 1980s. “Kodakarai was not accessible due to poor road connectivity. In addition to the woes, the people here were confused about getting medical treatment. I made it my mission to come here at least once a year and offer my services to the people. The free clinic for tribal residents at Kamagiri followed soon after. It is open twice a week,” says Dr Jeyachandran Karunakaran, a 79-year-old paediatric surgeon from Bengaluru, whose steadfast commitment has given life to the entire Bettamugilalam tribal panchayat.
It was a slow but steady journey. In 2000, the doctor set up a mini health centre called the Samaritan Medical Aid and Research Trust (SMART) at Kamagiri, providing free treatment to the residents in the panchayat. He travelled around 100 km from the Krishnagiri district headquarters hospital. The two-decade long effort to assist those in need bore fruit as it has inspired students of Chengalpattu Medical College, where Jeyachandran worked. A team of at least six specialist doctors come to the tribal panchayat several times a year to host medical camps.
SMART uses reverse medical tourism, which means that the organisation would spend money from their pocket for the patients. “If treatment is not available in the clinic, we send the patients to doctors affiliated with SMART for treatment. Travel, medicines and treatment expenses would be borne by us. As far as minor ailments are concerned, we offer free treatment and medicine. In cases of complicated ailments which require surgery or hospitalisation, we send them to government hospitals and inform the doctors about it,” says Jeyachandran.
SMART clinic roughly functions as a bridge between government hospitals and tribal communities, who sometimes find it difficult to effectively communicate their problems. “We provide treatment for gynaecological problems and also perform urological, paediatric and laparoscopic surgeries. The cost may go up to Rs 20 lakh but we do not accept a single paisa for it. Over 95 camps have been organised in the last two decades. Veteran doctors, such as 90-year-old Dr Chandra Asirvadham, are roped in. Some of the other doctors include urologist Dr Kupprajan from Coimbatore, laparoscopic surgeon Dr Sasidharan from Cuddalore and oncologist Dr Alagu Ganesh from Madurai,” said VT Arasu, a member of SMART and surgeon at the medical college.
The prolific team has helped many, including 36-year-old S Sakthivel. He was on the verge of death after a head injury in an accident in 2011 on the hilly roads of Bettamugilalam. “I lost control of the motorcycle and suffered a head injury. The tiny bit of hope left my body when I started losing consciousness. We had no ambulance service then. An emergency vehicle had to come from the nearest PHC at Unichetti, which is 15km away and would take an hour or so. When I opened my eyes, doctors explained that the first aid given at the SMART clinic was crucial in the golden hour,” he said.The laments of the past are long gone as Bettamugilalam tribal panchayat has now a different tale to tell: The story of a converged path and the person who took the road rarely traversed.