SEATTLE — Very few people have the courage to give up a comfortable life to work for a social cause. Two such people who have devoted their time and energy to uplifting the rural poor in India are Dr. Rani Bang and her husband Abhay Bang.
Dr. Rani and Abhay Bang
Rani and Abhay Bang both have MBBS degrees from Nagpur University in Maharashtra, India, as well as masters in public health from Johns Hopkins University. These two professionals decided to embark on a lifelong journey to help transform the lives of the rural poor in India.
Dr. Bang started her career as a gynecologist three decades ago in Gadchiroli, one of the most underdeveloped districts in Maharashtra, India. She was the only gynecologist in the district then. Through her work, she saw that many women in the district had absolutely no knowledge of gynecological health. Due to poverty and lack of accessible medical facilities, they did not address their concerns with a medical professional, making them more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.
On examining the women in the area, Dr. Bang saw that many women suffered from sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, obstructed labor and infertility issues. Among these, the women considered infertility the most serious concern. Dr. Bang was curious about this because infertility is not a life-threatening issue, as opposed to the many other health problems that they faced. On questioning the women in the villages, she discovered that they were all victims of patriarchy. If a woman was unable to conceive, she would be thrashed by her husband and in-laws and looked down upon by society. This brought to light the conservative nature of society and the lack of understanding about male infertility.
The Beginning of SEARCH
Dr. Bang was very moved by the plight of the women in Gadchiroli and decided to find a solution to their problems. She and her husband Abhay are followers of the Gandhian principle of “evolutionary revolution” and took it upon themselves to create initiatives to transform the lives of the poor in India.
In 1986, the Bangs founded the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH). A survey conducted by SEARCH revealed that about 92 percent of women in Gadchiroli suffered from various gynecological problems, mainly STDs. Teenage pregnancies were on the rise, as the villagers lacked proper sex education. The survey also brought to light the increased occurrence of pneumonia in children, which was one of the major causes of child mortality.
Dr. Bang also discovered that the problems that women faced went far beyond their immediate health concerns, as alcoholism was a major issue among the male members of the family, which affected the family’s wellbeing.
Reaching Out to the U.N. and Other Women’s Groups
Dr. Bang decided that the issues faced by women in Gadchiroli needed to be addressed on a bigger platform in order to find immediate and effective solutions. She presented the reports of the SEARCH survey to various organizations, including the U.N. At the meetings, she conveyed her opinion that the focus of health organizations should shift from maternal health to women’s health, as it was necessary to take into consideration the overall wellbeing of women rather than just their gynecological wellbeing. Her views received appreciation from many women’s groups, as prior to this, nobody had emphasized the importance of this shift.
Dr. Bang’s study was soon published, and she was invited to conferences and seminars to present her findings. In 1992, she had an opportunity to present her research studies at the World Health Assembly, where ministers from various countries learned about the importance of widening the scope of women’s health. These conferences and seminars enabled her findings to receive international recognition.
The Founding of Shodhgram to Help the Poor in India
In 1993, Rani and Abhay set up Shodhgram, a hospital and rehabilitation center, to help improve the health and living conditions of the poor in India. The center was modeled after the structure of the tribal village in order to make it more welcoming to the local population. The campus includes a research center, a training center, an alcohol addiction center, a pharmacy, a kitchen and dining hall, a meeting hall and quarters for staff and visitors.
The initiative taken by the Bangs became a boon for the poor in Gadchiroli who had lost all hope of transformation. Now they can receive medical care at affordable rates. The health of women has improved and with the opening of the addiction center, the problem of alcoholism has been brought under control.
This inspiring doctor couple has won several state and national awards for their humanitarian work. In early 2018, they received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, for their extraordinary social work.
Thus, with their dedication, hard work and relentless commitment to working for the welfare of the people, these two doctors have brought about a huge transformation in the lives of the poor in Gadchiroli. If the government encourages similar initiatives, many more rural villages in India will see the light of development.
– Shruthi Nair