Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
For 4-year-old Mujtaba, it was his very first visit to India. Gripping his grandfather’s hands with little fingers, Mujtaba awaited for his turn to come. Mujtaba, along with his father and grandfather travelled all the way from Karbala in Iraq to Bangalore, India — not to see the scenic beauty that the city has to offer, but to get a complicated heart procedure done at Narayana Health City.
He is one of the few children from war-torn Iraq who has been lucky enough to receive heart treatment in India. A team of social workers and young philanthropists in the Indian tech-capital have been doing their bit to help the children in need in Iraq. One among them is 25-year-old Dr Zakaria Abbas, who is heading the project, #GiveLife initiated by an NGO, ‘Who is Hussain?’
While this unique initiative was started by Abbas, he owes the credit to Who is Hussain and his father, Aga Sultan, an educationist and philanthropist, who has spent much of his time working towards improving the lives of those who have been affected by the political turmoil in Iraq. It was during one of Zakaria’s visits to Iraq in 2016 which moved him to take up this unique initiative.
Talking to The Logical Indian, Zakaria said, “During my visit, I saw an orphaned child who looked visibly upset. I couldn’t speak Arabic but I understood that the child had been suffering from a congenital heart defect and needed surgery.” Zakaria, who was still an MBBS student at the time, felt that there is little that he could do to save that child and many others like him. However, after coming back to India, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Zakaria, who was actively involved with Who is Hussain, a global non-profit that works to empower the deprived and the needy, made use of the platform to launch the #GiveLife campaign. He said, “With the help of the founders and volunteers in London, I kickstarted a crowdfunding campaign.” In just a few day’s time, the organisation was able to raise £20,000 (Rs 18,19,517) to sponsor lifesaving treatment for children in war-torn Iraq and in 2017, the first child, Fatima, was flown in from Iraq to Bengaluru in India. Similar fundraising took place in 2018 for the next lot of children.
In Bengaluru, the logistics and on-site assistance were looked after by Zakaria and his brother, Razi Abbas, with the help of Laureate Educational & Welfare Foundation, a Bengaluru-based grassroots NGO working towards health and education. Over the last two years, Zakaria and his team, both nationally and internationally have conducted 15 heart surgeries on Iraqi children at Narayana Health City. The execution is not an easy task as the team had to make serious efforts in planning the whole programme in a manner which would be conducive and efficient.
Rohit Miglani, a part of the International Division at Narayana Health City while explaining the process of getting a child to Bengaluru, told The Logical Indian, “We receive preliminary reports from the patients in Iraq and after evaluating them, we send them the the details about the condition, procedure to be performed, estimate in an invoice. The patients are re-evaluated at Bangalore by running through all the tests again to get a clearer picture.” From identifying a potential patient to bring the child over to India and then conducting the surgery takes about two weeks.
Run by renowned heart surgeon, Dr Devi Shetty, Narayana Health City has waived off all fees for such heart surgeries which would cost and has completely subsidised the cost of operation and treatment depending upon procedure making this project a non-profit. The team along with Zakaria are of the opinion that India holds immense potential and has one of the most accessible health care facilities in the world and Narayana Health City has been working with the authorities of the Holy Shrines of Karbala for the last 14 years to forge a better connection between the two countries.
Talking about Narayana Health City, Zakaria said, “Heart surgeries are complicated as it is and is even more so among children, however, we have been lucky enough to do this under Dr Devi Shetty’s supervision and assistance. It wouldn’t be possible anywhere else at such subsidized rates.”
While this is the Indian narrative to this unique international collaboration between the people of two nation countries, conditions in Iraq are far from ‘normal’. Years of exploitation, turmoil, human rights violation, uncertainty and political instability have left this middle-eastern country in shambles. All these problems have inevitably crippled the country’s medical facility to the point where the lack of doctors is forcing its citizens to suffer in vain. The country’s children are the worst hit according to Zakaria, who has conducted an independent study of the harrowing conditions of some of Iraq’s biggest and most populated cities, including Mosul and Karbala.
However, for 4-year-old Mujtaba’s grandfather, India, specially Bengaluru has been very welcoming. While both the nations have had bilateral ties, its the culture, the warmth and the people of India that draws Iraqis.
Zakaria said, “Every year more than 35,000 children in Iraq die and from those that survive, one quarter under five displays stunted physical or intellectual development.” He further explained, “Due to inadequate nutrition, unsanitary living conditions and little access to healthcare, there has been an increase of preventable diseases, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea as well as an increase in birth defects, leukaemia and childhood cancers due to low-level radiation.”
Haider Mangushi of the International Media Department of the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala, while talking to The Logical India said, “One of the shrine’s office’s mission is keeping in touch with the poor families and orphans so the office receives cases of patients and present it on the doctors at Narayana Hospital with the cooperation of Dr Zakaria and Aga Sultan.”
Zakaria aims to make Iraq self-sustainable in the field of health with the integration of Indian healthcare by training Iraqi doctors in Karbala and operating on children in Iraq. This collaborative effort between both the countries transcends to a level of humanity which cannot be restricted by geographical barriers. Efforts like these show that man-made classifications of people based on countries, religions, faith and economic status cease to exist when faced with adversaries. The team, with its efforts, are trying to make Indian and Iraqi bilateral ties even stronger than it already is, with special emphasis on medical facilities. The Logical Indian applauds Zakaria Abbas and his team for undertaking such an initiative.
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