Gareth Morgan: What the doctor prescribed

by Gareth Morgan / 13 December, 2012
An unsung New Zealand doctor is achieving great things in Bangladesh.
Dr Edric Baker’s no-frills formula is the key to success.

Deep in the heart of rural Bangladesh lies the Kailakuri Health Centre, the creation of Dr Edric Baker, a New Zealander who has devoted the past 33 years to his unique formula for
providing healthcare for the impoverished of this populous country. Baker is my hero. If I were religious, I would describe him as a modern-day saint. Yet New Zealanders still know so little of his work.

There is no access to free public healthcare in Bangladesh: you need money. That locks out the poor and the destitute, who comprise much of the population. No wonder their maternal mortality rate is 24 times ours, their infant mortality rate 10 times ours, and their life expectancy for those who make it to a live birth 72% of ours.

Baker’s formula is no-frills medical care that can be administered by his team of paramedics drawn from the target patient population – most of whose education levels are well below Year 11 – under supervision of a qualified doctor. For the ongoing financial viability of the project, it’s critical that his approach be maintained.

The hospital and health outreach services would soon become unsustainable if the centre followed many standard practices. For example, the centre avoids using drugs that are more expensive than necessary, something that’s common in modern healthcare systems, which must have the latest and are susceptible to marketing hype.

It also has resisted “upgrading” to methods found in modern hospitals – such as having beds and computer systems. Replacing staff with medically trained professionals on (even Bangladeshi) market salaries would also make it impossible to keep providing all the services it does, as would dropping the patient support model – a family member must accompany the inpatient to hospital to perform the requisite nursing duties.

The centre also reduces costs – and therefore treats more patients – by not providing transport services for incapacitated patients: families bring their needy in using what transport they can afford, often a local cycle rickshaw.

What Baker has achieved is truly phenomenal. The key to his “care for the poor by the poor” has been in the way he has created a service attuned to the health needs of these otherwise ignored patients, one that can be maintained and implemented in large by the target patient group itself with very little outside intervention.

Baker, who lives a simple but busy life with next to no personal possessions of his own, has a quality most of us would be in awe of. The sheer volume of annual healthcare his operation gets through each year – 33,000 outpatients, 1000 inpatients and 21,000 receiving health education – for an annual budget equivalent to the salaries of just two New Zealand city-council middle managers, is something to make New Zealanders sit up and reflect on how fat, frivolous and unproductive our own lifestyles often are.

Problems? We hardly appreciate the meaning of the word. One thing making me very happy this Christmas is that I have been negotiating with the rich folk of Dhaka to match me dollar for dollar – let’s replicate Baker’s “care for the poor by the poor” across Bangladesh with a number of facilities. I think we might just pull it off.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


The Guns of Navarone writer knew he had to have a Kiwi hero
71551 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z History

The Guns of Navarone writer knew he had to have a …

by Charles Hamlin

When Alistair Stuart MacLean sent his heroes up a sheer cliff, he knew he had to have a New Zealander in charge.

Read more
NZ spied on Japan to help US - NSA document
71615 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z World

NZ spied on Japan to help US - NSA document

by Craig McCulloch

Leaked US documents reveal Kiwi spies gathered information about Japan at a whaling conference, then passed it onto the NSA ahead of a crucial vote.

Read more
Mustard with your mustelid? The future of ethical protein eating
70342 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Innovation

Mustard with your mustelid? The future of ethical …

by Margo White

If we want to feed the masses without wrecking the planet with more intensive agriculture, we might need to reframe our attitude to insects.

Read more
Thomas Oliver is in a soul frame of mind
71574 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Music

Thomas Oliver is in a soul frame of mind

by James Belfield

Last year’s Silver Scroll winner has a new album and is all set to go on tour.

Read more
Art of disruption: Fafswag's alternative look at the Pacific body
70635 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Arts

Art of disruption: Fafswag's alternative look at t…

by Anthony Byrt

A group of young artists are making sure their voices are heard in the discussion of decolonisation and the representation of Pacific bodies.

Read more
My life in clothes: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas on glamour and grunge
70622 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Style

My life in clothes: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas on glamo…

by Rose Hoare

Photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas describes how an anti-fashion phase has stuck with her through her life.

Read more
Phil Goff's half year looms with big fiscal hopes still alive
71557 2017-04-25 00:00:00Z Politics

Phil Goff's half year looms with big fiscal hopes …

by Todd Niall

Auckland's mayor Phil Goff is approaching his six-month mark in office saying he believes his two big budget ideas will eventually come through.

Read more
The forgotten tragedy of Kiwi heroes and the inspiration of The Guns of Navarone
71507 2017-04-25 00:00:00Z History

The forgotten tragedy of Kiwi heroes and the inspi…

by Charles Hamlin

A forgotten tragedy befell our first Special Forces in Churchill’s second bid for the Dardanelles.

Read more