I recently visited Aurobindo Child Hospital in the Dinajpur district, nearly 350 kilometer North-West from the capital Dhaka of Bangladesh. The hospital is built on land given by Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram (a spiritual hermitage). Sri Aurobindo, born in Kolkata in 1872, had a vibrant and distinguished, known for his service, politics and spiritual leadership. After his death, his followers voluntarily built ashram’s in many different places of India and Bangladesh, many of which are still dedicated to serving humanity through the provision of health care.
The hospital was established in 1987 by a number of dedicated social activists and with the help of the Ashram committee, the district administration, volunteers, local elites and doctors. At the time, there was no children’s hospital in the district. Initially, the hospital provided free outpatient services to neonates and children in a single small room, staffed with 2 to 3 volunteer doctors. In contrast, today, 3 to 4 famous pediatric doctors voluntarily extend their support to this hospital. For a week at a time, each pediatrician will take personal time to provide services to these children at no charge to the hospital. This group of dedicated doctors is a key resource for Aurobindo. In addition to the volunteered time of these doctors, other employees, including medical officers, accept lower than market pay rates out of their dedication to improving children’s health.
Because of the importance of children’s health to the local community, Aurobindo’s single small room was replaced with a 3-story building. Since then, the number of patients has been increasing every day. Patients from neighboring districts are even being referred and come regularly for better services. Currently, between 80 and 100 children receive outpatient services every day. Inpatient services have been started with 10-bed capacity but there has been continuous demand for more than 30 to 40 admissions a day, mostly of neonates and infants. In the absence of alternative available facilities, Aurobindo permits the admission of patients beyond bed capacity in life threatening situations.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recognized the importance of the children’s hospital and its contribution in reducing child mortality rates. Therefore, the Ministry has sanctioned money for a new 5-story building to house a 100-bed comprehensive maternal and child hospital (construction is ongoing). The local parliament has also expressed solidarity for the cause of child health and support for Aurobindo hospital.
I found this hospital to be a unique example of social momentum and volunteerism for child health. Nevertheless, there are a number of needs that have yet to be fulfilled. One of the physicians, Dr. SM Wares, along with the management committee has made an urgent appeal for a ventilator to help provide care for those admitted for birth asphyxia and other serious complications.
The Aurobindo Child Hospital is carrying out admirable work and efforts like these are undoubtedly contributing to the fact that Bangladesh is on track for achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 (the reduction of child mortality rates). Nevertheless, with neonatal death rate that has remained high at 37 per 1000 live birth, there is still much work to be done.