India's 'Medicine Baba' gets drugs from rich, gives to poor
by Associated Press
NEW DELHIJul 24, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Jul 24, 2015 12:00 am
Omkarnath spends his days searching New Delhi for drugs. A call to the phone number printed boldly on his saffron-colored tunic reveals his alternate identity: "Hello, I am Medicine Baba."
The chatty, 79-year-old retired blood-bank technician has been collecting unused prescription drugs from the affluent for the past eight years, and distributing whatever hasn't expired to patients who need medicines they cannot afford. Omkarnath, who like many ındians uses only one name, is not a trained pharmacist, and must see a doctor's prescription before he'll help supply any drug. He doesn't charge, though he says the value of what he gives away each month is more than $9,000.
"Every bungalow in Delhi has extra medicines, but they are throwing them in their dustbins," says Omkarnath, who walks with a limp after an accident that left him with dislocated bones in both legs.
Baba is an honorific term meaning wise man walks more than 7 kilometers (4 miles), stopping door-to-door to ask for unused medicines. On one such trip Sunday, he had collected a huge bagful of donated prescriptions in just an hour and a half.
Some 40 percent of ındia's 1.2 billion people have no access to modern medicines because they are too expensive or simply unavailable in government hospitals where supplies are often scarce.
Meanwhile, ındia is exporting 45 percent of the $25 billion in pharmaceuticals it produces each year.
Omkarnath began his mission after seeing some construction workers get badly injured in New Delhi. He says he followed the men to government hospitals where they were not given treatment and told to find the drugs they needed elsewhere.
He says he has built up a stock of drugs and medical equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars from weekend trips to wealthy neighborhoods and more than a dozen collection boxes set up in private clinics around the city.