DR EDRIC BAKER
Edric was a New Zealand citizen who qualified as a medical doctor in the mid 1960s. At that time the Vietnam war was building up. In 1968 Edric volunteered to work with the NZ Surgical Team in Qhi Nhon, the provincial capital of Binh Dinh Province in (then) South Vietnam. The Surgical Team worked at the Province Hospital and attended to civilian casualties.
He recalls his first lesson: “After several hours of traumatic war surgery on a patient who made full recovery, I saw him come back three months later to die of dysentery. That was the first step in my awakening.”
From the NZ Surgical team, after a spell in NZ, Edric transferred to a highlands mission hospital established in Kontum by Dr. Pat Smith. This served the ethnic minority hill tribes people known as the Montagnards.
Kontum, near the Ho Chi Minh trail, was a volatile part of the country and at times the expatriate hospital staff were evacuated out. On returning after one of these occasions, Edric was struck by how the local (totally untrained) staff had managed to keep the hospital running. This awoke in him a vision of health services for the poor by the poor.
Here he was challenged to think about provision of health services for the poor and the marginalised. He became very aware that for the poor in most countries health services do not exist.
The situation deteriorated in the Vietnam highlands and Edric was detained for four months. He may well have spent the rest of his life in Vietnam had he not been deported by the communists after this imprisonment. He set about equipping himself for a lifetime of service to the poor. Over the next few years he obtained Diplomas in Tropical Medicine, Tropical Child Health and Obstetrics. He obtained tropical experience by working in hospitals in Papua New Guinea and Zambia.
By the early 1980s he was ready to embark on what has turned out to be his life’s work: developing health services for the poor, by the poor. In 1983 he went to Bangladesh, one of the most desperately poor nations on earth. Under the auspices of the Church of Bangladesh he went to Thanabaird in the remote North of the country. Here, starting from scratch, he taught literacy and numeracy before training local people to become “barefoot medics” for the Church Clinic.
Through a mix of formal training and learning by doing, the Thanabaird clinic was built up to a staff of 55 by the year 2000. Of these only two had been to high school. The programme was dealing with 16,000 outpatients and some 700 inpatients a year. With assistance from volunteer paediatric nurse Libby Laing, village health-workers also provided antenatal care, preventative health, nutrition and family planning services.
A satellite health centre was established some five km away at Kailakuri specialising in services for diabetics and TB. Here Edric was able to put into practice what he had been working towards for many decades. The diabetes programme was managed and run entirely by diabetics. The TB eradication programme was managed and run entirely by persons who either were being cured, or had formerly been afflicted by TB.
In 2006 Edric transferred from the Church of Bangladesh to a local NGO, the Institute of Integrated Rural Development and shifted over to work full time with the Kailakuri Health Centre.
Kailakuri has partnered with the MATI NGO (based in Mymensingh) since September 2013. More information about MATI's activities is available at www.matibangladesh.org
In 2014 Edric was awarded Bangladeshi citizenship as a recognition of his life's service to the poor people of Bangladesh. His greatest wish was that quality health care will one day be available to all Bangladeshis.