\'The problem of our world cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited to obvious realities. We need women and men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not.'
George Bernard Shaw's words hand on the plaque in Hira Pradhan's Gaushala clinic. And those words are what inspire the doctor who could be making big money treating rich patients. But she has deliberately decided there is a higher calling in her life to help society's outcasts, those that no one wants to help.
Pradhan started SEWA Kendra Leprosy Relief in 1989 to provide free medical care to the sick, especially leprosy patients. She still runs for her usual patients but started a weekly mobile clinic that goes to the Pashupatinath Old Age Home, leprosy communities at Khokana and Dolalghat and Beldanda. It gives free medicine, dressings, smears to detect leprosy, family planning and eye treatment. Occasionally, dentists accompany the clinics and if a specific treatment can't be provided, the doctors refer patients to a specialist willing to take the case for free.
"I get much more satisfaction treating patients who really need my help," says Pradhan modestly, "it is spiritually fulfilling. You can't buy with money that level of personal joy at having helped someone in dire need."
Pradhan's group wants to detect leprosy while it is treatable and provide care to those who need it, especially women of low-income groups. There are beds in the SEWA's Centre for the leprosy-affected poor who cannot afford nurses. Patients don't just have to deal with the physical disability but the stigma attached to the disease in Nepal which means many are ostracised by their communities and families because of the mistaken belief that leprosy is contagious.
The healing process for leprosy is long and needs bed-rest because it causes a person to lose all sense of feeling in the affected areas of the body. Recently, Pradhan has started providing education for poor and marginalised children. Financial aid and scholarships are also given to children at Khokana who want to study nursing.
Text and pictures by ELENA DUBAS and ARTHUR PAZO.