The Samaritan Healer
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
Most people do not know the Hippocratic Oath by heart, but what they do expect from their doctors is dedication and compassion. In our fast-paced and increasingly materialistic world today, these and a host of other qualities expected in doctors often come at a rather high price, if at all. Dr. Abdul Quader is an exception to the norm. Though relatively few people know of him, those who truly need him find their way to him from far and wide, and once they do, they are never disappointed.
any weekday morning, the Gulshan 2 market, usually frequented
by the rich of the area, can be seen crowded with all
kinds of poor from all over the city. The Balaka Pharmacy
becomes a temporary haven for the underprivileged who
seek the unconditional help of Dr. Abdul Quader.
Shona works as a domestic help in Kathaliya, Badda.
When her three-year-old son Joy's eyes grew yellow and
he wouldn't eat properly, she brought him to Dr. Quader.
“I've been coming to him for years,” she says, “from
even before I was married. He is very good.”
Mohammed Tayebur Rahman, a carpenter, has also been
consulting Dr. Quader for over twenty years. “I come
all the way from the Cantonment,” he says. “I've taken
medicine from elsewhere, but this is where I have always
been healed. The doctor has a good name and he is very
good in his work.”
Quader established the Balaka Pharmacy and his own small
chamber in a corner of the Gulshan 2 market in 1974.
“I had wanted to help the poor from when I was a student,”
he says, “and when I opened my own pharmacy and chamber,
I put up a sign on the very first day saying I would
see poor patients free of charge.”
at the time was not as huge as it is today, but patients
from many nearby areas came to see him and they still
do. “Drivers, rickshaw-pullers and all kinds of people
working and living nearby come here,” says Humayun Kabir,
an employee of the Balaka Pharmacy for the past eighteen
years. “We have patients coming to us from as far off
as Badda, Tongi, Norshingdi, Munshiganj and even Mymensingh,”
he says. “They crowd at the door even before it is open
early in the morning.”
Quader's father, Abdur Razzak, was a landlord in Norshingdi.
His mother, Ayesha Akhter, a 'Minor Pass', equivalent
to Class 6, in the 1920's -- which was very rare for
women at the time -- encouraged him and his brothers
to pursue their studies. “My mother always wanted one
of her sons to be a doctor,” recalls Dr. Quader, “one
an engineer and one a professor. That is exactly how
it is,” he says happily.
myself remember wanting to be a doctor from when I was
in Class 9,” says the 70-year-old General Physician.
He had contracted typhoid at the time. “The nearest
MBBS doctor was five miles away from where we lived,”
he recalls. “Though he advised my parents as to how
to treat me, he wouldn't come over and see me himself.
I recovered but I lost a lot of weight and was very
broken down by the ailment. It was then that I decided
to become a doctor, available to everyone.”
Quader completed his LMF (Licensing of Medical Faculty)
and later, in 1972, his MBBS from Dhaka Medical School.
He had worked at a government job for a while prior
to that, and during the Liberation War, practiced in
Shivpur. He recollects the difficulty in maintaining
neutrality during the war. “The Pakistani army and the
Mukti Bahini would each accuse me of being on the other's
side. I only tried to heal any wounded who came to me.”
Quader has no fixed rates. While foreigners and local,
more “solvent” parties pay relatively more, the poor
and underprivileged remain the majority of his patients.
They pay whatever they can, from Tk. 50 to Tk. 10 to
nothing at all. The wife of a trawler operator and herself
a domestic worker, Ram Shona cannot afford to pay much.
“The doctor takes whatever we give him,” she says. “Sometimes
I pay Tk. 20, sometimes, Tk. 30.” Those who can pay
nothing are given free medicine or the money to buy
medicine by the doctor.
poor aren't his only patients, however. “I started consulting
Dr. Quader in 1985,” says M. Aminul Islam, a retired
Secretary and Ambassador. “I found him to be very patient
and an attentive listener to his patients' problems.
He only suggests medicine that you really need to be
cured. For example, he won't prescribe strong antibiotics
for coughs and colds that would heal anyway. I received
results from his treatment which is why I often consult
him when unwell. He is so experienced that sometimes
he can just tell what's wrong without doing extensive
tests. And when I learnt of his services to the poor,
I knew that he was not only a good doctor but also a
very good man.”
doctor sees around fifty to sixty patients a day and
does not have rigid visitation hours. Though his business
card claims his office hours to be from 8 a.m. to 12
p.m., if there are patients to attend to, he stays well
beyond noon, and the patients keep pouring in. Helal,
an employee at the Balaka Pharmacy says, “The doctor
will only leave after the last patient does. If a patient
shows up even when the doctor is at the door on his
way home, he will turn back and see him. He never says
no to a patient, and often ends up leaving at 3 or 4
in the afternoon.”
is one of a kind,” adds employee Humayun Kabir affectionately.
a time where most doctors are some of the richest people
in the city and who do not hesitate to charge unreasonably
high visitation fees for 5-minute consultations, how
does Dr. Quader afford to run his chamber and pharmacy
as well as to invest so much time and energy?
the establishment is not a hardship, he says. “Instead
of distributing clothes among the poor, I invest all
the money I need to pay as zakaat in my poor patients.
I even have a considerably large poor fund from which
I help pay for patients' medical tests and operations.”
for medicine, many doctors get free samples from the
various pharmaceutical companies. “I get almost Tk.
10,000 worth of sample medicine from the various companies,”
he says, pointing to some drawers in his desk filled
with medicine. “I give these for free to the poor and
some to the Central Dispensary.” Most other doctors
sell it off.
Balaka Pharmacy also sells medicine at the price at
which they buy it from the companies. So while other
pharmacies sell medicine originally worth Tk. 10 for
Tk. 12, buyers at Balaka get it for less. “The companies
also make huge profits,” says Dr. Quader, “and claim
to give it to charity which they very well might, I
don't know. But I give directly to those who come to
me in need.”
60-year-old widow came to me today,” says Dr. Quader.
“Her only son won't let her live with him and she has
no place to stay. When she fell sick, he gave her 50
Taka and sent her to me. Another patient had arthritic
pain and I suggested she not do unnecessary tests, but
she was adamant. The results were as I thought -- osteoporosis.
She did not have the Tk. 350 that was due. Women and
children are the majority of my patients,” he says,
“as they are, in effect, the poorest. Mostly they suffer
from malnutrition, gradually resulting in a variety
of ailments from diarrhoea and pneumonia to allergies,
bronchitis, asthma and rheumatics. If necessary, I refer
them further to doctors and specialists, the ones they
there other doctors like him in the city? Dr. Quader
smiles at the question. “I am not special,” he says.
“I am not any different from the others. Only, money
is not my prime concern.” A novelty indeed in today's
poor patients tuck a note into my hand,” says the physician,
“and after they leave I see it is 10 Taka. I don't mind.
I even pay for operations if they are not minor operations
that I can do for free,” he says.
Before everything became so specialised,
Dr. Quader performed minor surgery. Today, he supervises
operations. But when a poor woman on her way to a wedding
has her earring snatched and her ear lobe torn, or a
poor man has a nail or a thorn and fear of infection
in his foot, Dr. Quader stitches the wounds.
When it comes to major surgery, he refers
them to Dr. Chowdhury Habibur Rahman, recently retired
from the Holy Family Hospital, says Dr. Quader. Dr.
Rahman does operations for much less than the usual
rates, if not for free, and Dr. Quader fills in the
rest from his poor fund for patients who cannot afford
There are, of course, some problems
the doctor faces. “On principle,” he says, “I never
give false certificates. There are people, even secretaries
and ministers who perhaps do not want to appear in court,
for example, who request them, and, though I still refuse
them, I am put on the spot.”
“Other prominent people, as well as
local thugs, break the queues to see me, sometimes causing
a havoc at the pharmacy.”
Before, Dr. Quader used to go on house
calls to see patients. Now, however, he only goes to
families of whom he is family physician, in and around
Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara. “Some people who are
well enough to come to my chamber ask me to go see them,”
he says, “when I have patients who need to be attended
to at the pharmacy. Going on house calls has also become
risky. Sometimes you are given addresses that are not
even houses, and when you go there, they'll point a
gun to your head and strip you of any valuables you
may have on you.”
In countries abroad, each area has its
own family physician, says the doctor. “We have set
up a similar Academia of Family Physicians here.” Dr.
Quader believes this is very important. “Many families
need not only medical treatment,” he says, “but also
emotional advice.” There are problems between parents
and children and so on, the physician has noticed, which
later lead to health problems, such as heart ailments
and high blood pressure from extensive worrying. “These
families often need emotional counselling rather than
medical help to get things into perspective and themselves
correct what cannot be done medically,” says Dr. Quader.
espite having helped the poor so generously
over so many years, Dr. Quader does not have to live
frugally and he does not complain about the difficulty
of making ends meet. He lives in one of his own set
of apartments in Nikunja, and associates with people
from all walks of life. “I have always maintained a
simple, middle-class lifestyle,” he says, “so that anyone
at all can come to me, from ministers and secretaries
to rickshaw-pullers and domestic workers.”
He has definitely succeeded. The Balaka
Pharmacy is crowded with patients from all social classes
though the needy make up the majority. They feel at
ease with the soft-spoken, compassionate doctor, willing
to listen, and trying to heal to the best of his ability.
His son, Dr. Lutful Karim, a chest specialist,
also sees patients at Balaka in the afternoons and evenings.
“I hope my son will be able to go by the ethics I have
tried to maintain,” says Dr. Quader. His daughter-in-law
and two sons-in-law are also doctors.
doctors today take up medicine with the objective of
making money,” he says. Dr. Quader's only message for
young doctors today, as well as his suggestion for setting
up medical facilities for the poor, is to be humane."
Many doctors,” he says, “will prescribe
a number of unnecessary tests, and get a 40 to 50 percent
margin of the profits at the end of the month.” We do
not have enough doctors, medicine and medical facilities,
he believes, but if we could make honest use of those
we do have, health care in this country would not be
in such a miserable state. Unfortunately, we are extremely
corrupt. The medicine, gauze and bandages are often
missing from hospitals also, stolen by the nurses themselves,
“Money isn't everything,” says Dr. Quader.
“Humanity is. I don't ask doctors to do charity work.
But if each of them would at least see 20 or 25 percent
of poor patients for free or nominal fees, it would
make life much easier and better for many of the poor
in our country.”
Like everything else in our world today,
medical treatment and healing have become expensive,
sometimes even exploitative, commodities. It is difficult
to find doctors like Dr. Quader who will take the time
to listen to a patient's problems and suggest remedies
that will actually work, while at the same time considering
whether the patient can or cannot afford to pay the
doctor's fees. It is even more rare to find a doctor
who will expect and accept even nothing in return.
“I don't have hordes of money, but I
am very satisfied with my life,” says the doctor, also
a proud grandfather of thirteen. “I am comfortable,
I am happy. I don't need a high life. I spend my free
time praying at the mosque and playing with my grandchildren.”
Photos by: Zahedul I. Khan and Imran