The cost of medical treatment seems to be ever-increasing, and doctors and hospitals are often suspected of over-charging or prescribing unhelpful (but expensive) tests. This deteriorating relationship between the patient and the doctor many times ends in violence, with medical professionals facing the physical assaults, and destruction of property. But for the last 38 years, Manohar Dole from Junnar near Pune has kept a spark of faith alive in the medical field by helping tens of thousands of eye patients for free.
The 93-year-old Ayurveda doctor, with no formal training in surgery, has been helping adivasis and the poor from neighbouring parts of the state to get treatment for cataracts, eye operations and other eye ailments.
“We have treated about 1.5 lakh patients over the last three decades,” says Manohar Dole.
Manohar, a qualified professional in Ayurveda, completed his studies in 1962 from Pune, about 90 km from Narayangaon.
“I moved to Narayangaon to serve the socio-economically weaker sections of society. There were no proper roads, electricity or efficient water supply in the village,” he says.
Manohar opened a small clinic on the Nashik-Pune highway and started treating patients.
During his medical practice, he observed that his patients often came from the tribal belts of Nashik, Thane, Ahmednagar and Pune.
“The elderly had a common problem of losing vision due to cataracts. Many of them had weak vision and needed glasses to correct them,” Manohar said.
But with no expertise in the field of ophthalmology or surgery, Manohar could hardly help. “I used to refer the patients to Pune doctors, but not many could afford to go and seek their services,” he explained.
Two decades after his practice, in early 1982, Manohar lost his best friend Mohan Thuse, a social worker in Junnar. Deeply pained by the loss and moved by his willingness to serve the needy, the doctor decided to open a hospital to treat patients.
“I had no means and initially decided to set up a small surgery room. I identified some eye specialists from Pune and requested them to treat the patients for free,” Manohar said.
Manohar said that doctors somehow agreed to visit on minimal conditions like an honorarium to be paid or transport costs to be covered.
Manohar agreed and sourced funds from temple trusts and other social organisations.
However, despite infrastructure and medical expertise, Manohar still had a bigger challenge to face.
“No patient would agree to get treated. Not many had heard of an eye operation or surgery. They did not believe that such surgery could help restore vision. The intent became more suspicious when the patients were suggested that the treatment would be for free,” Manohar says.
The Ayurveda doctor said that patients often felt there was some scam or hidden motive behind the initiative.
Overcoming many hurdles, the hospital, named Mohan Thuse Eye hospital under the Dr Manohar Dole Medical Foundation, started with 20 beds and one operation theatre.
“But somehow we convinced a few to get the surgery done. I used to practice my profession during weekdays and conducted camps for patients on weekends,” he added.
Manohar said that after getting treated and satisfied with improved eyesight, patients felt confident and started approaching the hospital.
The process was slow but steady. Check-up camps every week were held in the rural and tribal belts to check patients.
“It took ten years for the hospital to run smoothly and the financial struggle to ease. As the word spread, many donations from trusts, individuals, corporates and other companies started coming in,” Manohar said.
Since the first initiative in 1982, the hospital has treated over 1.5 lakh patients for free.
Manohar’s son, Sandeep, is a homoeopath and says the hospital has expanded its services over time.
“In 2002, a new hospital building got set up with a facility of 100 beds and three operation theatres. The equipment got upgraded, and better treatment gets provided to treat multiple eye ailments,” Sandeep said.
Sandeep added that the hospital treats 400 patients a month and has procured nine buses to ferry the patients from home to the hospital and back.
“The entire transportation cost, meals and treatment comes for free and is sponsored through donations,” Sandeep said.
When asked why Sandeep did not take up studying ophthalmology to assist his fathers’ cause, he replied, “I have asked the same question to him. But he deliberately asked me to study homoeopathy as he never intended to earn from the hospital. He felt that if I specialised in eye treatment, the motive would get questioned.”
Ravindra Kolte, an ophthalmologist from Pune serving the hospital since the very beginning, said, “I came to know about the initiative through professional contacts. From 1977 to 1982, I treated patients referred to by Manohar. But in 1982 it was decided to have a dedicated facility in the village.”
Ravindra said that he travelled on alternate Sundays for treating patients. “The patient flow started increasing after a year, and then I started making trips every Sunday,” he told The Better India.
Sonu Bangar, a 70-year-old resident from Taleghar village in Ambegaon said that he got a surgery done on one eye recently. “All the costs were covered by the hospital. For the last couple of days, I can see better,’ he adds.
However, Sandeep feels that a lot more needs to be done for the patients. “We are in the process of procuring LASIK surgery equipment. The advanced eye treatment facility will help to correct vision with laser treatment and get rid of the need to wear glasses,” he added.
“There are also advanced expensive procedures that we wish to provide at some minimal cost to the patients,” he said.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)