People’s doctor no more
Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder and valiant freedom fighter Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury passed away at the Gonoshasthaya Nagar Hospital in the capital last night.
He was 81.
Dr Zafrullah, the recipient of Swadhinata Padak, the highest civilian award of Bangladesh, was taken to the hospital in Dhanmondi after he fell seriously ill on April 5.
Prof Brig Gen (retd) Mamun Mostafi, who led the medical board formed for Zafrullah's treatment, declared his death at 11:00pm.
Zafrullah was suffering various health complications with dysfunctional immune system leading to many infections, Mohibullah Khondoker, vice-principal of Gonoshasthaya Samaj Vittik Medical College, told The Daily Star.
Doctors said his liver and kidneys suffered much since he was infected with Covid-19. Zafrullah was alive with almost two dysfunctional kidneys and had to go through dialysis thrice a week.
On April 7, a medical board, led by Mamun, was formed with the renowned doctors of the country for his treatment. On April 10, he was put on life support.
Defying his fragile health, Zafrullah remained active -- participating in seminars, and political and social events. His condition worsened several times, yet he bounced back.
But this time this brave man lost the battle.
Born in Raozan upazila of Chattogram on December 27, 1941, Zafrullah was the eldest among 10 siblings. He passed matriculation from Nabakumar Institution in the capital's Bakshibazar and intermediate exams from Dhaka College.
He completed MBBS from Dhaka Medical College in 1964 and went to London to study FRCS. When the four-year FRCS course was about to be completed, the Liberation War broke out in Bangladesh.
He chose to abort the exams and dedicated himself in mobilising the people for the independence of the nation, setting an example of unparalleled patriotism.
Zafrullah also tore apart the Pakistani passport during a rally in London, protesting the massacre of Bangalees by the Pakistan occupation army. In May 1971, without any passport, Zafrullah and Dr MA Mobin decided to fly to Kolkata.
They collected travel permits and started for Kolkata on a Syrian Airlines flight. Damuscus was their stopover. The Pakistan government was watching their every step and tried to arrest them with the help of the Syrian government.
All the passengers left the aircraft. However, sensing the danger, the duo did not move as they knew the police cannot arrest anyone from an international flight.
At the end of May, they reached Agartola. There, he built Bangladesh Field Hospital, which primarily took shape in Bisramganj village of Agartola, India.
It was the seed of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, which would revolutionise the public health sector after independence.
During the war, freedom fighters wounded in battle were treated in that field hospital -- a structure made of bamboo and grass that had 480 beds and an operation theatre.
Zafrullah and Mobin provided paramedical training to a group of volunteers who worked as nurses for the hospital.
In a heavily conservative society, Zafrullah took the challenge to break the stereotype by empowering women and engaging them in his workforce.
The total number of staffers at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra is now around 2,500. Of them, 40 percent are women.
Zafrullah's most remarkable contribution after the Liberation War was formulating the drug policy that served as a cornerstone of today's robust pharmaceutical industry.