KATHMANDU, Jan 14: He was born in a community of leprosy patients living in an asylum provided by Dadeldhura´s Team Hospital. He spent his childhood forging lasting bonds with strangers who had been banished by family and society. Many of these people, whom he lovingly calls “uncle”, “aunt” and “grandmother”, have lost their nose, or ear, or arm to the ailment.
Now a medical doctor, Arun Budha, 29, has a clear life goal.
Dr Budha wants to devote his entire life to providing medical services to people living in rural hinterlands. He has already spent three years at the Team Hospital, and another year at the Mission Hospital in Palpa, doing exactly that. But, as a longer-term goal, he wants to provide surgical services to patients in rural Nepal by becoming a general surgeon.
“Imagine! For seven hilly districts in the far-western region, the Team Hospital in Dadeldhura is the only medical institution that can provide surgeries like a caesarian,” said Dr Budha, an unassuming youth with a low, polite voice and clear priorities.
For a man who has made it through an epical journey that started from an asylum for leprosy patients, took him to Xian Jiaotong University in Shaanxi, China to study MBBS, and then took him back to Dadeldhura equipped with skills to treat people he loves, Dr Budha remains a strikingly grounded and modest youth from Dadeldhura.
“Looking back, I feel it has been a strange, yet interesting journey,” he said reflectively. “I was lucky that my different childhood gave me the opportunity to understand people who are in need of medical care,” he told myrepublica.com on Wednesday.
Banished to Dadeldhura
Dr Budha´s father, Raghubir, who was born in Kalikot, contracted bacillus Mycobacterium leprae at the tender age of ten. Raghubir´s father tried faith-healers and other traditional healing methods to cure his eldest son, but to no avail. Eventually, the stigma associated with leprosy that is still considered in many rural villages as divine retribution for sins, proved too great a burden for the Budha´s family to live with.
“The situation back then was so bad that people who had contracted leprosy were segregated from the society and forced to live in caves. Many were eventually eaten up by wild animals,” Dr Budha said.
When Raghubir was 15 his father sent him to Dadeldhura so that he could lead some kind of ´normal´ life by receiving treatment at the Team Hospital and doing odd jobs for locals.
At the Team Hospital, Raghubir met Parbati, also a leprosy patient, who had arrived there from Bajhang with a similar story. They eventually got married. Parbati bore three children.
Two doctors from the family
“The three of us grew up in the community of around 60 families affected by leprosy,” said Dr Budha.
His father Raghubir initially did odd jobs. But being a senior member of the community (his registration number was three), Raghubir was eventually employed by the hospital for taking care of the garden, taking posts to and fro the district headquarters, and later as an interpreter, though his knowledge of the English language was limited.
Raghubir´s earning, supplemented by what Parbati made by taking care of paraplegic women, was enough to finance the studies of Arun, his younger brother, and a sister, all of whom studied at Ugratara School in Dadeldhura until SLC.
“Father was a sensible man. He taught us discipline,” said Dr Arun.
Raghubir, who was also a pastor at a local church in Dadeldhura, died of a heart attack in 1999.
Dr Arun did his ISc from Patan Multiple Campus, and was supported by the Team Hospital and friends for his M.B.B.S study in China, which he completed in 2005.
His younger brother, Kaleb Budha, was closely following his footsteps and eventually became a doctor himself after completing M.B.B.S on scholarship at Nepal Medical College. Dr Kaleb is currently posted at Chaurjahari Hospital in Rukum.
Service is supreme
Leprosy has been considerably contained in the country with many organizations working in that direction and the society growing more accommodative to those suffering from the disease. But the state of overall health service delivery in rural Nepal remains dismal.
Dr Budha has resolved to devote his life to strive to change this. If not in anyway else, he will try to do this by making his services available to people in remote districts. “Most of the country is rural. If the state intends to make health services reachable to the common man, it must expand health infrastructure in rural areas where people need the service most,” he said.
Dr Budha, who was part of a team of doctors that provided treatment in Rukum during a diarrhea and cholera epidemic last year, stresses that it is the state´s neglect to rural health that leads to such epidemics.
After another six months at Dadeldhura´s Team Hospital, Dr Budha hopes to study general surgery and then return to the needy people of rural Nepal for good.
“I have no interest in leaving the country,” he said, adding promptly, “I don´t mean to criticize others for leaving. It´s an individual´s choice.”
For a man who spent his childhood receiving love from people with medical needs, it isn´t hard to guess Dr Budha´s motivations.
“I can love patients unconditionally,” he said. “I can understand them.”
Dr Budha, who is a Christian, added, “The love God has showered on me is my driving force. I believe in love that doesn´t discriminate.”