For the past couple of decades, eye specialist Hari Sankar Das has been seeing patients at Mymensingh city's Charpara area. As the country's healthcare system took a major hit amid the coronavirus outbreak, access to medical facilities became more and more difficult. Despite the challenges, the 70-year old continued to serve the people of Mymensingh, not turning away anyone who might need medical help for their eyes.
In fact, he has been examining most patients completely free of cost. Akkas Ali, a 65-year-old farmer from Dewkhola village in Phulbaria Upazila of Mymensingh said he has been visiting the doctor for long. Recently, he took a hit on one eye and came to Dr Hari with an injury.
"It was a great relief for me to visit the doctor, as I was worried about accessing healthcare during such a crisis," said Akkas.
Mofiz Uddin, a daily wage-earner from Phulpur Upazila also receives free treatment from the doctor. He visited the chamber with irritation in his eyes on Sunday noon, and Dr Hari didn't let him down. Sometimes he also gets free medicine, said Mofiz.
Aysha Akter, a 35-year-old daily wage-earner from the city's Dhopakhola area said as she is poor, the doctor never charged fees from her.
Dr Hari Sankar is the director and proprietor of Paramita Eye Hospital (Pvt). There are 52 staff at the hospital, all of whom have been retained throughout this time, and they're being paid due salaries.
The hospital's deputy director Fatema Begum said, "Most of the private hospitals and clinics in the town have been closed during this time, and people who used to work there are passing difficult days. But Dr Hari has ensured that the staff of Paramita Eye Hospital do not suffer financially," said Fatema.
However, the number of patients at the hospital has decreased, also reducing the hospital's revenue. Around 20 people visit the hospital on average every day, and most receive free treatment or pay as much as they can afford to, said Mahmuna Akter Mina, a manager of the hospital who has been serving there for 24 years.
Dr Hari has also been providing his services over cellphone. Patients call him for consultation every day, and the number is available on the doctor's Facebook page. Emergency operations are also being conducted at the hospital.
Born to late Indu Bhushan Das and Renuka Prova Das at Nikla Das Bari in Bhuapur of Tangail in 1950, Dr Hari Sankar did his MBBS from Mymensingh Medical College in 1974 and joined government service in 1975. He later resigned from the service in 1981 to complete his post-graduation in Austria's Vienna.
"Under the leadership of country's eminent eye specialist Dr K Zaman, we organized hundreds of eye camps in greater Mymensingh since 1977 and I was the chief surgeon of the team," said Dr Hari, speaking about his long career.
Dr Hari Sankar said he personally procured PPE for himself and his staff, and they are maintaining as much precaution as possible with patients. "None of the staff has been infected, by God's grace," he said.
"I have to pay Tk some 350,000 for staff salary every month but the monthly income from the hospital is meagre at the moment," said the doctor. He is subsidising the rest of the expenses from his own funds.
Dr Hari Sanker himself is a patient of diabetes and high blood pressure, and he appeared well aware of the risk of operating the clinic amid the pandemic. "I would be at high risk if infected. But I could not leave those who seek my service amid any crisis. Medical professionals are stepping up during this crisis and it is my professional duty," said the elderly doctor.
Dr Hossain Ahmed Golandaj Tara, secretary of Bangladesh Medical Association, Mymensingh unit said it is a rare instance in the country that the doctor did not close his chamber for even a single day even during such a crisis period.
"We are proud of Dr Hari for his devotion and commitment to the profession and his patients," said Dr Golandaj.
"Doctors, many of whom are private practitioners, should come forward for their patients in this time instead of turning them away," Dr Hari said.