UPDATED on 1 June 2021 at 4.25pm to add link to donate to the family of Dr Rahul Pawar
Dr Rahul Asha Vishwanath Pawar, a young, bright, and hard-working doctor, who has been working with COVID patients, succumbed to the deadly virus on 26 May 2021 after a long battle with coronavirus and mucormycosis. This 25-year-old had overcome almost impossible odds and abject poverty to get a medical degree and all the hopes of his family were tied to his future.
Today, not only are those hopes shattered but the distraught family if left with debts for his treatment and education, including loans from many people including a mukadam (labour contractor for sugar-cane cutting job), so much so that their own survival is at risk. Dr Pawar’s family earned revenue from cutting sugar cane.
“Rahul was a brilliant student. However, he could not score enough marks for admission in the common entrance test (CET). But in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission for MBBS in private colleges, he scored good marks. Rahul got admission in Maharashtra Institute of Medical Sciences & Research (MIMSR), Latur through the government quota,” says Dr Amarnath Gutte, roommate and batchmate of Rahul.
Rahul’s doctor friends and colleagues, shattered by his death, are rallying around to support the family, after having worked round the clock to raise fund for his treatment as well.
Dr Shrikant Chavan, who is Rahul’s senior and some friends visited his home in Anandnagar village in Pathri taluka of Parbhani district, to find that it is nothing more than a tin-shed and the family did not even have any food left. "Their vulnerable condition left us speechless. Rahul was the karta of this family and with him gone, they have lost all hope. Rahul used to work as assistant with some doctors and earn money for his studies as well as for his family. When we saw there was no food in Rahul's home, we bought ration supplies that would last them for at least for a month now."
"However, we feel is the government needs to step up immediately and provide for the family. There was a promise of Rs50 lakh insurance money, which should be paid to Rahul's family so that they can at least survive with some dignity," Dr Chavan says.
On 26th April, Dr Rahul Pawar posted his photo on Facebook with a message "Final year passed now its officially Dr Rahul Asha Vishwanath Pawar." Soon after, he started showing symptoms of COVID and was admitted at a hospital in Majalgaon in Beed district. From there, he was shifted to MGM Medical College and Hospital in Aurangabad.
Dr Gutte, roommate of Dr Rahul says, "Our internship started from 6th May but Rahul was undergoing treatment. We spoke with him daily. On 15th May, we even had a video call with him when he told us his desire to join the internship as soon as possible. But after this, his condition deteriorated and he was put on a mechanical ventilator."
Some batchmates of Dr Rahul, including Dr Nilesh Kalyankar and Dr Prathmesh Patil used social media to raise Dr Rahul’s issue and for raising funds for his treatment. Many of his batchmates contributed towards the fund-raising efforts. After knowing the fund raising, the MGM Medical College decided to treat Dr Rahul free of cost.
"The hospital also returned Rs1.80 lakh deposited with them by his relatives and friends," says a report from Lokmat
Dr HR Raghavan, medical supervenient of MGM Medical College told the newspaper "Dr (Rahul) Pawar was being treated in our hospital since 3rd May. His health was deteriorating since the day of admission. He was put on the ventilator from 16th May. In the meantime, he was found to be suffering from mucormycosis. Hence the treatment of this fungal infection was also underway. All the necessary injections were given to him, but breathed his last while undergoing treatment Wednesday (26 May 2021) afternoon."
Rahul's family, his father Vishwanath, mother Asha, and brother Sachin work as sugar-cane cutters. This is a seasonal job and available only for six to nine months a year. Sugarcane cutters are generally hired in pairs and are paid a meagre sum of about Rs50,000 to Rs1 lakh for the contract period. Rahul’s younger brother Sachin is married and has a one and half year-old daughter. Rahul was not married.
"Rahul was very mature in every sense and keeping in mind his family's financial conditions, he used to assist some doctors to earn some money. We hardly saw him sitting idle and wasting time," Dr Gutte says.
According to friends of Dr Rahul, he had taken a loan for his education that needs to be repaid. Further, Dr Chavan says, his family may have taken some loan from some people, and may be from some money lenders, for his treatment. All these loans need to be repaid.
Dr Rahul’s younger brother, Sachin told me, "He was karta of our family and so he only knew about loan he had taken. We have no idea about the loan amount or from where the loan was obtained."
Dr Gutte and some of the friends of Dr Rahul visited the Pawar family on Sunday, 30th May. He told me, “Rahul’s family took advance money from the mukadam (sugar-cane contractor) of Rs2.85 lakh for his treatment. Sachin had previous dues worth Rs70,000 and his father owe Rs67,000 to the mukadam from last season. Rahul belongs to the nomadic tribe (NT) category and did not have to pay college tuition fees. But he needed to pay the development charges of Rs40,000 per year, plus there were other expenses. So, he took hand loan of about Rs2 lakh over a period of three-four years from some doctors and a pharmacist. Add to this the home and vehicle loan taken by the family.”
Dr Neela Patwardhan, an ophthalmologist, and an alumnus of Sion Hospital, spoke with former president of All India Interns Association, who are setting up an account for donors to directly contribute to Dr Rahul's family, who are in debt —- as they have taken loan for his medical education.
However, Dr Patwardhan feels, "An ex-gratia payment should be arranged for doctors, who succumb while treating COVID, just as victims of the cyclone or those drowned, are given. Also, every doctor, on passing, should be covered with an indemnity insurance by the government, to cover all COVID related treatments, not only when in hospital but also late complications."
All medical interns from Maharashtra are observing a 'Black Day' on 31st May to pay their condolences to Dr Rahul Pawar as well as highlight many issues faced by them including lack of clarity on the Rs50 lakh insurance.
Dr Prathmesh Patil from Nair hospital, who is chief co-ordinator and official spokesperson of Association of State Medical Interns (ASMI) says, "What happened with Dr Rahul has shaken every batchmate of ours. We have no answer as to what would happen to our family, if there is no insurance protection for us. So, we want the government to assure us that we also get the Rs50 lakh insurance coverage like other healthcare professionals."
The ASMI is also raising issues of meagre monthly payment given to them (about Rs11,000) and excess load since the government has decided to free post-graduate intern batch for examinations. "Last year, there were four batches, including three batches of post-graduate (PG) students and one of MBBS doctors and they were assigned only COVID duties. However, this year there are only three batches and by end of June, there will be only two batches left to handle COVID, non-COVID and vaccination work. Just imagine what could happen of the third COVID wave hits as predicted by scientists and doctors," Dr Patil says.
Earlier in February this year, the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) passed its budget for 2021-22 with a ‘Covid Suraksha Kawach Yojna’ for medical students. As per the scheme, students can get up to Rs1 lakh assistance in case they are infected with COVID-19 while serving in their respective medical colleges affiliated with MUHS. In case of death of the student, family members can get financial assistance of up to Rs3 lakh under the Covid Suraksha Kawach Yojna.
In a message, Dr Mukund Bhise, head of department, community medicine (PSM) at MIMSR, Latur, says the college is applying under the scheme and persuade to provide financial assistance to Dr Rahul's family.