A physician couple from the US has become the successors to late Dr Edric Sargission Baker, the New Zealander who established the Kailakuri Health Care Center in Madhupur upazila in 1996.
Thousands of miles from home, Dr Baker had provided primary health care services to the poor for free for 32 years, until he passed away on September 3, 2015, aged 75 in a mud hut next to the centre.
Giving new impetus, the physician couple -- Dr Jason Morgension, 45, and Dr Merindy Zoschke, 44 -- joined the health care facility in July this year as volunteering medical consultants. They have moved in with their four children aged between three and five years, including a pair of twins, in one of the tin-roofed mud huts near the centre.
In his lifetime, Dr Baker trained a number of local men and women as paramedics, who still frequent neighbouring villages to give treatment to the sick, especially pregnant women and newborns.
“The local doctors and the paramedics treat the patients, both in patient and outdoor, and we just assist them in their works,” Jason told The Daily Star. They will also be performing as international correspondents to collect foreign donations.
Those in need of critical treatment are admitted at the 40-bed indoor centre that has different units for diabetes, TB, diarrhoea, burn and mother and child.
Dr Baker, who was given Bangladeshi citizenship in 2014 and lovingly referred to as “Daktar Bhai”, used to collect funds to run the centre from private donors including his friends and well-wishers in New Zealand, the US and the UK.
“Daktar Bhai has left us, but his health care centre remains as a blessing,” said Shilpy Hagidok of Kailakuri village.
Since his death, two intern doctors from Gonoshasthya Kendra, took care of the centre by rotation. They were assisted by all previous paramedics. Later, Dr Rakibul Hasan Rakib from Gonoshasthya Kendra joined as a medical officer in 2017.
Jason first met Dr Baker when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin Medical School at his then clinic at Thanarbaid village in Madhupur on 1999. The two were introduced by Fr Doglus Venne, who was Jason’s uncle and a friend of Dr Baker.
Since then he travelled several times to Bangladesh, and twice accompanied by his wife, to visit the health care centre.
Dr Merindy, who studied at the Health Sciences Centre College of University of Oklahoma, met Jason while they were working at Netividad Medical Centre in California in 2003. They married in 2005.
The couple moved to Bangladesh in 2018 and learned the Bangla language, while they were living in Mymensingh town for about a year.
On why they choose to live in a remote rural area, Jason said, “We came here as we want to serve the poor. And we are very happy here. The locals are very good people and they are our friends.”
Dr Merindy told The Daily Star that she was impressed seeing Dr Baker’s initiative during her previous two visits to Bangladesh. “I am happy to be a part of this project.”
“However, as our two-year visa will expire in 2020, we will move back to the US for a short time. But we will return again to continue work on this project for several years.”
The couple has enrolled their children in a local missionary school as well.
Tanjina Afrin Jui, an intern from Gonoshasthya Kendra who works at the centre, said, “Dr Jason and Dr Merindy are sincere people who help us treat the patients. I have never seen them unhappy over anything here.”
The Kailakuri Health Care Project at Madhupur was turned to Dr Baker’s Organisation for Well-being after obtaining registration under the Social Welfare Department last year. It was also registered under the NGO Bureau of Bangladesh two months ago.
Pijon Nongmin, a local indigenous youth and executive director of the organisation, told The Daily Star that after the death of Dr Baker, the health care centre was running like before with support from the government, private organisations, and individuals.
The centre has a workforce of 80 and 30 of them were paramedics.
However, donations from foreign countries, including New Zealand, have reduced since his death, he added.