Fule Ara's free hospital

Ariful Gani | Update:

Fule Ara speaks to a patient at her hospital. Photo: Prothom AloFule Ara Imam, a housewife from a village of a remote char area in Sirajganj, has built a hospital in the area with the help of her husband and locals. The hospital, built almost a decade ago, is the only medical facility available to the people of five unions surrounded by the river Jamuna.

This Prothom Alo correspondent reached Natuarpara river port of Kazipara upazila in the district after travelling along through the Jamuna for an hour by speed boat. ‘Manabsheba Hospital’ is the only private hospital in this remote area. The 10-bed government hospital of the area has just been opened. Fule Ara's hospital started almost 10 years ago.

It is easy to spot the hospital housed in a tin-roofed wooden house, by its signboard and the queue of the patients waiting outside. A solar panel has been installed to provide electricity round the clock. There is a small pharmacy beside the hospital.

Asiya Begum, 60, came from Sindorhata village of Chargirish union. Her daughter Asha Khatun had a stomach pain over the last two nights.

“We are people from the char area. If we fall sick, it takes us around one and half hours by boat to reach the Sadar hospital. And it’s dangerous to travel by river at night,” Asiya Begum said.

Like Asiya, people of the char areas like Natuarpara, Nishchintapur, Chargirish, Mansoornagar, and Tekani union, receive treatment at the hospital.

Renuka, the younger sister of Fule Ara, was tending to the patients. She has undergone training as a village doctor. Fule Ara’s husband Imam Hossain is the head physician of the hospital, she said.

Fule Ara was busy distributing free medicine. Imam Hossain came up and sat beside her while she was talking to the correspondent.

Tragedy sparks determination

It was 1982. Fule Ara was then living at Jorgachha village of Natuarpara union with her family. Her younger brother Sujon caught a cold one day. He was having breathing problems. They tried to take Sujon to the sadar hospital after the treatment of quack failed. It was late evening. There were no boats available so late. Sujon died that evening.

“I asked myself -- will the people of the char areas always die like this without treatment? Can’t we do anything? I knew we had to do something,” Fule Ara said.

Early days

Fule Ara got married in 1983. Her husband Imam Hossain was a student then. He was studying for Diploma of Medical Faculty (DMF) in Sirajganj after passing the HSC exams. He was unemployed for two years till 1986, after completing the three-year course. Then he joined as an assistant medical officer. Fule Ara’s dream started to take shape with her husband’s job.

Fule Ara said, “I shared my plans with my husband in 1990. He was very happy.”

However, he thought, how will we arrange the funds?

Fule Ara had the solution. She had saved money. Her father’s village Jorgachha had disappeared into the Jamuna. All of them took shelter at Rehaishuriber village. Fule Ara handed over Tk 100,000 to her husband in 2005.

“I got down to business with the money. We opened a homeopathic treatment centre in the bazaar area. We also kept a doctor and used to provide treatment for free,” Imam Hossain said.

Why did an employee of a government hospital go for a homeopathic hospital? Fule Ara said, “The people of char areas trust the homeopathy more. That’s why we started with homeopathy.”

River erosion once again obstructed the initiative. The homeopathic treatment centre went into the river in 2007 along with a huge area of Fule Ara's land. She had to start again at a new char.

However, this time, the villagers offered to help her -- some with money, some with tin sheets, wood or nails. Those who did not have anything, worked as laborers to build the hospital along with Fule Ara and Imam Hossain.

Named after her father and mother-in-law, the Amina-Daulat Zaman Hospital started for the second time in 2009.

Since then, at least 50 patients get treatment in the hospital every day. A small fee is taken from the well-off patients and the poor are treated free. Free emergency medicine is provided to the destitute.

Imam Hossain said, “We need a lot of funds to run the hospital. We are getting help from many people, but it is hard to cover the expenditure with that. We need a generator and an easy-bike or vehicle to carry patients. But I don’t know how long it will take to manage all this.”

Fule Ara, however, is optimistic. She believes her hospital will expand and provide treatment to many more patients in the char areas.

*This piece, originallly published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Saimul Huda.

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