Rubina was only in her teens when she faced a serious problem. She was suffering from chronic kidney failure and her doctors told her she had only two choices: to undergo dialysis treatment for the rest of her life or to undergo a kidney transplant. The dialysis treatment would have cost Rubina’s father 160,000 rupees a year. The transplant would have cost him 300,000 rupees. Either way, he could never have hoped to raise that much money.
Then, Rubina’s family heard of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, better known as SIUT, at Civil Hospital, Dow Medical College, in Karachi. Rubina’s parents brought her to SIUT. There, she received dialysis treatment until she could have a transplant with a kidney donated by her father. After she became well enough to return home, she kept coming back to SIUT for check-ups and her post-transplant medication, which she will take for the rest of her life. In the first six months after transplantation alone, these drugs would have cost Rubina’s father as much as 10,000 rupees a month.
But everything that Rubina received from SIUT-the dialysis treatment, the transplant, the post-transplant check-ups, and medication-did not cost Rubina’s father anything. Everything was, and still is, being provided to her for free.
The man who made all of this possible is Dr Syed Adibul Hasan Rizvi, a urological surgeon whose philosophy as a healer is expressed in SIUT’s stated mission: to provide comprehensive and modern medical facilities free of cost to all patients. Rizvi believes that health care is the birth right of every man, woman, and child, irrespective of cost. Treatment should not be denied to a person because he is poor and cannot afford the cost of medicine. He also believes that health providers should be free of ethnic bias and must provide equal treatment to everyone, whatever the patient’s background, caste, creed, religion, or gender. He further believes that health providers must attend to a patient holistically, providing not only free treatment and medication, but also social and health counselling so that the patient and the patient’s family can cope with the emotional stress caused by illness.
Syed Adibul Hasan Rizvi was born on September 11, 1938, to a close-knit, middle-class, landowning Muslim family in Kalanpur, a small village about ten kilometres from the city of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, British India. He was the youngest of nine children-six boys and three girls. The families of the Hindu peasants who worked the Rizvi land shared the Rizvi family house. Because Rizvi’s father laid down a rule that the children of the servants should not be discriminated against, Rizvi says it was “very difficult to differentiate between us (the Rizvi children) and the children of the servants.”
After graduating from Dow Medical College in 1961, he proceeded to UK to pursue higher studies. There, in a job interview he met Dr Poole-Wilson, a urologist who introduced him to this speciality and became his mentor. This is how Dr Rizvi remembers the interview: “What have you come here for?” Dr Poole-Wilson asked. “I have come to do my fellowship in surgery.” “What will you do after that?” asked the doctor. “I will go back.” “Why do you want to go back?” asked the doctor. “Sir, I am needed there.” “Are you sure you will go back?” “Yes.” “But suppose there are a lot of opportunities here,” said the doctor. “There will be other people to fill the vacancies here,” replied Rizvi. At this, says Rizvi, Dr Poole-Wilson “developed a liking for me.” In those days, most Pakistani doctors who went to England stayed on in England, so his reply “was something.”
In those days most people returned from UK with cars but guess what Dr Rizvi returned with: a container full of medical equipment!
It was in UK that he came across the National Health Service and he decided to try that idea at home. In 1970, Dr Rizvi set up an eight-bed urology ward at the Civil Hospital. “I was at the right time with the right people.” With a devoted and selfless team at his disposal, Dr Rizvi began testing his idea. “I remember many arguing with me that I should screen patients if they could afford to pay and that they should be asked to pay at least a portion of the treatment. I was totally against the idea of screening patients.” According to Dr Rizvi, it was humiliating for a person to be asked questions about his means while he was waiting for his treatment.
This eight bed ward gradually started expanding clinically and physically and in 1991 gained the status of an institute. In 2005 SIUT Trust was created as a charitable trust for the benefit of the public aiming to provide medical facilities and financial assistance to those who are at the end stage of renal ailments. Today SIUT enjoys the reputation of a “Centre of Excellence” and an institution known for high standards of professional ethics, outstanding medical facilities and a team of dedicated and motivated medical professionals whose zest and zeal is unparalleled. With 500 beds and facilities spread over 400,000 sq. ft. at its Karachi hospital, SIUT is regionally one of the most well equipped centres for renal diseases and transplantation. SIUT carried out its first kidney transplant in November 1985; to date it has conducted 3,600 kidney transplants. In 2003, Dr Rizvi led a team of SIUT surgeons that performed the first successful liver transplant on an infant in Pakistan. Dr Rizvi is also the president of the Transplant Society of Pakistan.
What drives Dr Rizvi? Is it religion? He himself says that he is not a religious person and that he rarely prays. He prefers to be described as a humanitarian because he believes that religion, in the end, is all about humanitarianism. “To be a member of any religion, one has to be a human being first. I was born into a Muslim family and I’m proud of my heritage. But at the same time I would be proud if I were practicing the basic norms of humanity which are part of any religion. I don’t think I should discriminate from man to man because of his colour, cause, or religious belief.” If one discriminates, he says, one is not carrying out one’s obligation as a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew, or a Christian.
While he regrets the acute poverty that most of our population lives in, Dr Rizvi considers the “disfranchised” people of Pakistan as “the most caring and generous people in the world”. These are great words from a great man, but it’s only for the people to decide whether it is them who are most caring and generous or the Doctor himself.