Kolkata: Ever since pandemic lockdown started patients of diseases like cancer and kidney ailments have had a hard time accessing regular treatment. But a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader in West Bengal is earning praise for conducting dialysis on patients at Rs. 50 per procedure.
Fuad Halim, a 49-year-old medical doctor runs a small dialysis unit near Park Street, south Kolkata, under the aegis of Kolkata Swasthya Sankalpa, an NGO which he runs with 60 of his friends and relatives.
So far, Halim’s team of three doctors and four technicians has performed 2,190 procedures since the lockdown began. And what’s more, at a time when hospitals are allegedly turning away patients fearing Covid infections, Halim’s unit is taking in all patients, Covid-positive or negative, with just one condition i.e a symptomatic patient, after dialysis, has to be admitted to a government fever clinic for tests, The Print said.
Who is Fuad Halim ?
Fuad Halim is the son of Hashim Abdul Halim, who had served as speaker of the West Bengal assembly for 29 years from 1982 to 2011, when the 34-year Left Front rule came to an end at the hands of Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress.
Fuad Halim junior contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on a CPI(M) ticket, finishing a distant third with less than one lakh votes, while the winner, chief minister’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, got nearly eight lakh votes.
Halim is also general secretary of the CPI(M)’s People’s Relief Committee, but Swasthya Sankalpa, founded in 2008, is not affiliated to the party.
“We wanted to offer affordable and scientific dialysis facilities to people. Patients who are suffering from kidney ailments go through a huge financial strain. Apart from the physical pain they bear, most of them generally cannot cope with the expenses,” Halim told ThePrint. “So, some of my school friends and cousins and I decided to do something about it. We started a five bed unit in 2008; I started it here in my residence.”
“Initially, we used to charge Rs 350 per procedure, and we never increased rates. In government hospitals, dialysis may cost around Rs 900 to 1,200. For Swastha Sathi (government medical scheme) beneficiaries, dialysis is done free of cost,” he continued.
“But waiting time is very high in government hospitals, and maintenance is also not up to the mark most of the time. Here, we perform the procedures in a scientific and hygienic way.”
Since the lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of the Covid-19 in India, Fuad Halim and his team decided to bring down the cost of dialysis to Rs 50 per procedure, and to treat Covid-positive and -negative patients.
“We never discriminated. There are patients whom we treated here and then sent to fever clinics, after seeing symptoms. They later tested positive. There are also patients who came to us after testing negative and we performed the procedures,” he said. “Our technicians and doctors comply with all Covid-19 protocols and guidelines while doing the procedures. Until now, none of our staff have got infected.”
Asked how his unit can get by charging just Rs 50 per procedure, Halim said the cost is borne by him and friends. Halim’s family is financially well-off — in his affidavit submitted to the Election Commission in 2019, he mentioned total assets worth Rs 3.60 crore.
“Three doctors work here voluntarily, while we pay the technicians. Our group has almost 60 members, mainly friends and family. We bear the financial burden together. We look at this initiative as part of our social responsibility,” he said.
Halim’s unit conducts 35 to 40 dialysis procedures per day, with nine sets of apparatus. The unit does not have air-conditioning, or a waiting area for patients and family members, or an elevator. “We have tried to minimise the cost of these fancy accessories. These do not have any connection with the treatment or the procedures,” he said.