Dr. Sanam Shah
F lives in a small brickhouse along the river stream. She lives with her husband and an adolescent son. On first instance there is something truly enchanting about her surroundings; im distracted by the sky so blue, tugging at me to get away from my city, 2000 km away near the sea. This is Skardu. It is home to three famous mountain ranges namely Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakorum and people reside in the foothills despite the natural upheavels and unrests; enough to lure us there in an instance. Lack of engulfing high rise buildings, the city traffic and general urban craziness would make it an ideal place to retire, I thought to myself. But I am moved by something unsettling about her demeanour. She spoke fluent Balti and conveyed phrases with long pauses. I try to connect with her in Urdu, she nods in reply. However, I wait for her son to return with her bag of medicines that she has been taking for a long time.
I take a breather and admire the lovely backdrop. The clouds hang low and I could almost reach up and try to touch one and the surrounding peaks are draped in the early winter snow, glistening under the rising sun. I almost imagine moving up here in the countryside seeing people like F who have been living in this town since a very long time. A nearby river stream fills the silence.
I learnt that there is a big district hospital some distance from this place serving two districts in this town and a bunch of smaller clinics serving this town of approximately 700000-800000. The number of doctors practicing there remains short. The hardest hit are women as they are compelled to see male doctors due to few female doctors serving the area. The doctors themselves are overworked in these challenging circumstances.
So the son finally arrives with a big white plastic bag that I empty on the table before me. To my astonishment there are numerous strips of Levofloxacin that she has been consuming for the last two years that apparently has not made her any better anyways. I look up at her quizically and reconfirm her history that is clearly pointing towards asthma and allergic rhinitis. I dramaticaly ask the family to discard any remaining strips and to avoid using in the future. I write a prescription of anti asthmatics and hand the son with my number in case of any questions and concerns in the future.
This is just one family I chanced to see during my last travels and I begin to think about the other families that make up approximately 800000 population in this town. Its probably just wishful thinking but I pray about having graduate programs in these locations in context of the needs of the local population and someway of retaining health professionals here who often prefer urban centres due to myriad instances like lack of facilities; public-private partnerships that can address the health care challenges and perhaps someday see the establishment of a medical school here!
Five days later when I moved back to work I still thought about her and the numerous challenges meted out by nature both complex and multifactorial. I felt guilty of the urban comforts and started to look at life from perspective of people residing without them on less than 5 dollars a day income. Even after three months of returning, I think about them and their smiling faces and I twinge to return and serve the people and enrich my life with the real stories of life and living in the real world of rural and remote health care. Thats when I think about the neccesity of primary care in developing countries and the need to mobilise a strong workforce of ancilliary health workers besides doctors and nurses. A part of me is there that will cause to return and I would be happy to succumb as long as I can.
Sanam Shah - Editor of the Blog Rural Health Success Stories
WONCA South Asia Region