Rahima Khatun, ‘Doctor Apa’ to the poor

Rahima Khatun with local women.
Prothom Alo

Three decades back, mothers-in-law would often chase her out of their homes. They wouldn’t let her talk to the young women in their houses.

She used to talk to them secretly without anyone knowing. She used to discuss issues like family planning, women’s reproductive health as well as maternal and child health care.

Times have changed now. Women are now more aware. At the sight of her, many come forward and talk to her on their own. In fact they ask her for all sorts of advice now.

Children or even grandchildren of those she used to give advice to three decades back are now coming to her for advice. Apart from health, she also provides advice on social issues like child marriage.

She even works for hours, beyond the fixed work hours of her government job. Expectant mothers often come to her house seeking help. She then has to rush to the health complex with them.

Rahima Khatun advising women on reproductive health and birth control at a yard meeting in her work area.
Prothom Alo

Apart from providing medical advice, she comes forward to help the poor and helpless women in their times of difficulties. She often pays for their treatment and buys them medicines with her own money.

This kind humanitarian person is a family welfare assistant (FWA) by profession. But to the local residents, she’s their beloved ‘Doctor Apa’. People in ward no.1 of Alukdia Union of Chuadanga Sadar upazila in fact call her by this name.

But her actual name is Rahima Khatun. Alongside indefinite love from the local people, 55-year-old Rahima also has received recognition for her work as she has been given the best health worker’s award four times.

When asked to comment on Rahima’s efforts, Chuadanga sadar upazila family planning officer Belal Uddin told Prothom Alo that Rahima Khatun is extremely passionate about her work.

She has a friendly relations with the women in her locality. Rahima is a trustworthy name to the locals, when it comes to birth control and better treatment.

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She began as a youth

It was the year 1988. Rahima was a 19-year-old youth back then. She joined the directorate general of family planning as a family welfare assistant. Ward no.1 of Alukdia Union has been her work area right since then.

At that time there were 450 couples of reproductive age in that area. But, only 15-16 per cent of the couples had come under the coverage of birth control methods. Every woman back then used to give birth to five to six children on average. With relentless hard work, Rahima has been able to improve that situation.

She said, there are 1260 couples in that area now. And, as much as 90 per cent of them use birth control methods. Couples nowadays don’t want to have more than one or two children. The number of couples having three children is only a handful, said Rahima.  

In recognition of her good work, Rahima Khatun won the best health worker award in 2018, 2019 and 2023 on upazila level, while in 2021 she won the award on district level.

Rahima Khatun going out to work
Prothom Alo

A day with Rahima

Though Friday is the weekend, she often doesn’t get any rest on the weekend due to her work pressure. People come to her seeking different solutions to their problems. Apart from that Rahima has to work two days on the vaccination programmes, two days at the community clinic and two days on field level family planning services every week.

While vising Ansar Camp Para area in Alukdia Union on last Tuesday, Rahima was seen busy with a yard meeting in a house there. Some newlywed, pregnant, new mothers and contraceptive users were found at that yard meeting.

Rahima at the time was calling them by their name to inquire about their health conditions and give them various advices. She was also seen handing over contraceptives to some of the woman there. Later she went to Chuadanga maternal and child welfare centre with several women interested in permanent birth control.  

Several women on the way said there are some medical issues that they find difficult to share even with their close ones. But they can share everything with ‘Doctor Apa’ without any hesitation. And, she gives them wonderful solutions also. They rely on her indeed while in crisis.

Homemaker Mita Rani said that pregnant women sometimes face negligence from their family members. In emergency situations, ‘Doctor Apa’ takes them to the maternal and child welfare centre or even to the district hospital.

She sometimes helps with the child delivery also. While doing so, Rahima sometimes even pays for the transportation and buys medicines with her own money.

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Her point of view

Rahima’s point of view about her own work is, “My job is sacred to me. Significant number of families in my work area is indeed consisted of ultra-poor and illiterate people. In case of any medical issues of a family member including pregnant women, many turn to treatment of quacks.

“In critical conditions, women of these families including pregnant ones have to be taken to the hospitals and arrangements have to be made for different tests-surgeries,” she added.

Rahima Khatun’s husband Abdul Maruf is a local trader. Her son Tanvir Siddiki is a pharmacist while her daughter Taznin Akhter is studying law and land administration at Patuakhali Science and Technology University. They live in Alukdia Bazarpara area.

To accelerate family planning activities in the country even further Rahima has given an advice based on her own experiences. She called for every ward in the union to be divided into two units and to appoint workforce in the field level vacant posts.

When asked about future plans, Rahima Khatun said she wants to continue serving this till the very last day of her job as well as during her retirement days.