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Wanted: Fools Like Pugazhendi!

A village clinic where patients pay anything between Rs 5-Rs 25 for treatment and medicines

Wanted: Fools Like Pugazhendi!
Wanted: Fools Like Pugazhendi!
Dr V. Pugazhendi is a man possessed. In his efforts to take affordable medicare to far- flung villages, he was aided by another, equally possessed—A. Shanmugam. Teacher and social activist, Shanmugam was known as the white-white man. Undeterred by his BP and diabetes, he together with Pugazhendi started a clinic in Sadras village in 1990. The next year, another activist, V. Saravanan, joined in and they set up another clinic at neighbouring Vayalur, again on rented premises. These villages, some 60 km from Chennai, are near Kalpakkam, which houses several nuclear establishments.

Shanmugam remained active till the end. In fact, he breathed his last in a bus while on a medicine purchase trip to Chennai in ’96. MNVP, Makkal Nala Vazhvu Pani (Forum for People’s Good Life), was the brainchild of Pugazhendi, Shanmugam and Saravanan. Its aim was to provide economical healthcare to the poor around Kalpakkam.

Pugazhendi was a gold medallist from Madurai Medical College. "Even as students, some friends and I had decided to serve in villages," he says. This March, MNVP managed to buy land and erect another clinic, their second one in Vayalur. Unfortunately, even Saravanan did not live to see it—he died about two years ago.

Initially, Pugazhendi and his team of assistants—villagers trained by him—faced considerable resistance. "They had got used to paying Rs 50 to Rs 100 to doctors who invariably used injections and prescribed costly medicines," recalls Pugazhendi. "In their mindset, a doctor who charged Rs 3 and did not administer injections was no doctor."

Says Sabapathy, a panchayat ward member, "We initially wondered why a gold medallist doctor wanted to come and offer us free medicines. Today, everyone trusts him." Pugazhendi and his team campaigned hard, talking to people and explaining basic healthcare. "We not only cut down on pointless tests and medication, but also passed on basic medical knowledge to people. When a doctor buys medicine, a tablet that costs Rs 4 on the counter is made available at 70 paisa. So buying in bulk at doctor’s discount, we could cut costs and pass the subsidy to patients."

Both clinics purchase medicines worth over Rs 30,000 a month. Some 2,000 patients receive treatment every month from these clinics for a fee of Rs 5-25, including medicines. Besides, Pugazhendi holds camps all over Tamil Nadu. MNVP also encourages alternative therapies like Siddha and homoeopathy. The credit for MNVP’s success must go to Saravanan and Shanmugam, says Pugazhendi. Not to mention the team of paramedics trained by him—V. Soundarapandian, C. Shanmugasundaram, P. Ganesh and K. Nagooran. Support from some employees of the Department of Atomic Energy has also been crucial. The Sadras and Vayalur clinics have been self-sufficient in terms of running costs.

When they were formally inaugurating the Vayalur clinic, the mason who built it was asked to do the honours. But there was an unexpected guest—D.K. Basu, a former Supreme Court judge. In Chennai on an unrelated trip, he decided to attend the launch. He said, "Pugazhendi is a fool and so are his parents. We need fools like him in every village." Contact address: MNVP Trust, 52, 4th street, Kalapakkam, TN-603102, Tel: 04114-281682/282090. Email: mnvptrust@yahoo.com

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