Dr Taru Jindal has redefined the scope of community medicine through commitment and work in rural areas, saving thousands of pregnant women and children in rural Bihar. She grew up with a close affection and an attitude to help those in pain. She dropped her plans to move into the polished of corporate healthcare and fellowships and instead worked for many years in rural Bihar – saving thousands of pregnant women and children in the process. The unceasing efforts of Dr. Taru Jindal – that range from primary health care, lactation, to community farming to combat malnutrition – can be read in this exclusive interview with our team member.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I am a gynaecologist and a lactation consultant, based out of Mumbai. I grew up in a family with a high degree of academic inclination. My father was a Nuclear Scientist at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and I grew up with some of the best minds in the country.
Wow, that’s a family full of intellectuals. So what prompted you to become a doctor?
During my 11th-12th grade, my grandmother had become bedridden due to a stroke. It was my job to care for her. Right from dressing her bedsores to cleaning her stool I did all of that. My brother, who is a doctor, taught me the fundamental medical knowledge to treat my grandmother. It struck me then that I am good at serving people, be affectionate towards them and good at taking care when someone is in pain and that’s when I realised that I would make a good doctor. Now, in the 3rd year of my MBBS, we had a subject called Community medicine in which we had a chapter on Reproductive and Child Health. In the chapter, I read many statistical tables indicating the situation of mortality in our country. Those figures shook me. I found there was a huge gap between what the current stated figures and what the figures envisioned to achieve. And I started thinking, probably for the first time, that how would I contribute – in a personal capacity – to change these abysmal figures; bringing a change in the society and the country. And I ended up thinking that if I would do initiate a movement of change, I would have to work the foundation of well-being – the well-being of a woman. I finished my MD in gynaecology in 2013.
You eventually chose to work with rural communities. How did you foray into it and was your interest in community medicine always a pivotal aspect of it?
So, I think my move into rural healthcare came from my husband (laughs). He was my senior during MBBS, I was 17 then and he was 19 and we were just about opening to new ideas. At that point, he said to me that I don’t want to crowd the city of Mumbai with one more physician. I want to go and work in an area where a huge maldistribution of healthcare professionals exists.Also, a major chunk of our population thinks that the age of service comes when we are probably settled and 55. But, my husband at that time said that should I deprive our country the benefit and vigour of my youth? I think these looming questions proposed by my husband had a deep impact and gave me a new line of thought. There was an itch inside me that I could not settle in a corporate hospital or a fellowship abroad. The moment I finished my MD and I found a project in Bihar.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your project in Bihar?
My first project was with Care India and Doctors for You in 2014. I was sent to Motihari District Centre in the East Champaran district of Bihar, in an attempt to teach doctors and nurses there. On day 1, I reached the district hospital and I saw a few women defecating and urinating outside the labour room. There were no toilets around. Outside the window of the labour room, there were heaps of bio-medical waste. Inside, I saw a woman delivering a baby with her bare hands. The woman used a cloth she tore from the saree of the mother to clean the baby. A peticot was torn in two pieces to wrap the baby. The midwife then used a bare needle and thread – the kind we use to stitch our buttons, to sew the tear in the vaginal wall. My head was spinning, but the drastic moment came in when I saw the midwife pick up the broom just after the delivery. I realised that she was not a doctor or a nurse; she was the maid of the hospital.
You know there were so many babies who died in the womb of the mother because there were no doctors to perform a caesarean section on the mother. I saw mothers who had ruptured their uterus and were being referred in an auto rickshaw outside the hospital. I saw so many deaths in two weeks and there was no doctor in sight. Most of them were seeing patients in their private practices. I was frustrated and I wrote to my NGO that I want to quit. They wrote back to tell me that this is why you were sent there. If everything would have been perfect, why were you needed? That’s when I realised, that if I leave I will probably find my solace from leaving all this behind, but the condition for the mothers and the babies would just be the same. I decided I will stay there.
Did things look brighter after your decision?
Every morning, I started giving lessons to the personnel there. I didn’t care about the doctor’s absence and I trained everyone I could get my hands upon. Slowly, with the help of the hospital manager, we were able to replenish every instrument and drug in the hospital. I realised that it was not the lack of money, instead, a lack of clear direction that stood as an impending problem. Eventually, the local administration supported us in full sway and helped us build 10 new toilets, a garden, and renovated our operation and labour rooms. People used to proclaim this hospital as the pit of despair. In 2015, we won Kayakalp award from the Government of India for being the best district hospital in Bihar.[infobox]
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Did you continue your work in the rural healthcare sector after you came back to Mumbai?
After I came back in 2015, my husband and I joined as lecturers at Sevagram Medical college, Wardha. But every day when I went to college, my memories of Bihar persistently flashed in front of me. I eventually went back to Bihar in 2015. This time I went to a remote village in Bihar called Masarhi in Patna district. The primary problem was a lack of primary health care centre and the area’s acute rate of malnutrition. We started a health care centre inside the village and treated everything – right from leprosy to pneumonia. We also started a nurse assistant training program wherein we employed local youth and women to be a part of it, understand basic health care, and also gather livelihood with this. For 6 months, we trained 12 housewives and today they run the malnutrition program on their own. I have seen villagers eating the skin of rats because they had nothing to eat. So, we even took up community farming there.
Your work is imperative and widespread. Would love to listen to some of the numbers and an impact anecdote associated with your work.
Once a woman came with her 5-year-old granddaughter whose weight was just 5 kg. She was not able to stand on her foot and was also suffering from diarrhoea. Two months after the treatment she took her first step in our health centre. For us, this was the Kayakalp Award of Masarhi. Through this health centre, we have served more than 8000 people from at least 50 villages, 240 mothers from 24 villages registered for antenatal care, 536 children were screened for malnutrition and 211 children were recruited in the malnutrition programme at the centre.
Sadly, Dr Taru Jindal had to leave her work in Masarhi, Bihar midway due to the detection of a brain tumour. She has constantly been on treatment since the past one and a half years but has unimpededly continued her work, now moving into the scope of Breastfeeding.
The Optimist Citizen first got in touch with Dr Taru Jindal in Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day long train journey traversing 8000 kilometres across the length and breadth of India, to understand and build the India of smaller towns and villages through enterprise. It is supported by The Schneider Electric Foundation and we were on board as a media partner. In the coming days, we would be bringing forward similar impact based stories encountered during the course of Jagriti Yatra this year
CII Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary grassroots women change agents who are working to transform excluded and disadvantaged communities of India in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise in India. Every year 15 finalists are chosen, and 3 are declared winners, with prizes of Rupees 3 Lakhs to the winners and access to a six-month mentoring and leadership process to all finalists. Click Here to know more.[infobox]
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