Published: 15th May 2021
This Bengaluru doc drives his car-turned-clinic across town treating COVID patients who Whatsapp him for help
We speak to Dr Sunil Hebbi who has given timelly treatment to over 300 patients with mild COVID symptoms and most of them have recovered
When Dr Sunil Kumar Hebbi treated an accident victim on the road with his first aid kit in 2010, the family of the victim met him and thanked him for his immediate service and presence of mind. That's when Dr Sunil realised that it paid to keep the necessary medical equipment in his car to treat people on the go.
Originally from Vijayapura in Karnataka, he came to Bengaluru a few decades ago for his medical internship and never looked back. He explains, "After that incident working with an accident victim, my perspective towards life has changed a lot. Along with some like-minded doctors, nurses and software engineers, I conducted health camps at government schools for children, senior citizens and women from different communities. While I spent time at my clinic on weekdays, weekends were dedicated to serving the needy and the poor. We would provide them with medicines and refer them to hospitals or doctors if their health issues were serious."
So far, Dr Sunil has conducted over 700 health camps over the last decade with a team of doctors and volunteers whenever necessary. He says, "I have customised the trunk or luggage compartment of the car with a small foldable table, chair, first aid kid, some medicines, a thermometer, a glucometer, BP machine, enema bulb and so on. I customised it my own way in a period of seven months and named it a Mobile Doctor Clinic."
Dr Sunil Hebbi with his mobile clinic
Fast forward to 2021 and the pandemic - Dr Sunil is now providing his free medical service to people who have mild COVID symptoms. He explains, "During the first COVID wave that happened last year, I did not venture out. But this time, I observed the intensity of the virus and the high death rate among people. I decided to help people and make the most of my mobile clinic. Last month, I made a video and posted it on my Facebook page along with my contact number. In this video, I not only spoke about the virus but explained in what way I can help them. The video went viral and got over eight lakh views. I was flooded with calls on the first day and wasn't able to treat all of them on the same day."
Soon, Dr Sunil realised that some of these calls fit a certain pattern. "For instance, some people called me to ask what this new virus was all about while others called saying that they have started feeling tired all of a sudden. After checking their medical history, I understood that these patients wouldn't have taken their diabetes or BP medicines for a month or so. Therefore, I arrived at a decision that I would only treat patients based on their condition. My priorities are senior citizens who have mild symptoms and cannot venture out and people who are staying alone in the city."
Every night when Dr Sunil returns home, he goes through the Whatsapp messages and audio recordings sent by people. Then, he prepares a list of around 20 such patients based on their locations in the city. He starts his day at 8 am and informs the patient if he is going to visit them. By the time he completes these appointments, it is easily 6 pm and the doctor is equally tired. "I can't continue to work once I feel tired. Because I need to be on the field the very next morning. That's why I return home by 6 pm," says Dr Sunil who has treated around 300 people in the past 30 days, most of whom have recovered from COVID-19.
Dr Sunil with children during free health camps before the second wave of COVID hit India
Even before COVID turned work upside down, Dr Sunil has been a strong advocate of primary healthcare among people. And that's what he has been promoting during these tough times too. "Our country only allots only 1.25 per cent of the GDP to the health sector which is less than what smaller countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh do. According to the WHO, we must set aside 6 per cent of the GDP to improve the infrastructure of the health sector. Have we all forgotten that right to good health and hospitals is a fundamental right?" asks Dr Sunil angrily.
He continues, "We don't go to doctors until our illness intensifies. For any disease, there is a primary stage and it can be cured easily. Similarly for COVID, people need to treat it in the primary stage itself. There is a particular period or course of tablets that the patients necessarily need to complete. But a lot of COVID patients are negligent. They consume medicines for the first two days and once they are fine, they stop consuming it. In that short span of time, the infection rate increases. There would have been a lot of time loss and the severity would have increased. In cities like Bengaluru, it is obvious that we don't get beds or medicines for COVID patients and the result is death."
Currently, Dr Sunil and his friends are providing COVID kits to people who are genuinely in need of it. He says, "With my car being too small, I am not able to do much help. If some donors can come forward and buy a second hand tempo traveller then I can fit an oxygen cylinder and oxygen concentrator machine to help many people across the city. I have already saved Rs 1 lakh from my earnings but need some more money to buy an ambulance. Hopefully, I will be able to achieve it before the pandemic ends."
During these dark times, a spark of hope and a shot of positivity can make all the difference in the world. That's what our new series Daily Positivity+ is all about. If you know someone who is doing their best to spread hope during this COVID pandemic, do tell us about them at email@example.com or WhatsApp us at +91 73580 29990