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More than a doctor

Solomoni Biumaiono
Saturday, February 23, 2013

It took a unique experience working on Gau Island in the Lomaiviti Group to make Doctor Bijend Ram make up his mind that he should specialise in community medical care.

After graduating as a medical doctor 34 years ago and serving in various capacities around the country, Dr Ram's working experience at the Qarani Village made him sit up and notice something.

"There is a need for primary health care doctors in the country. This area needs to be recognised and funded properly."

His passion was only fully realised when he encountered the many problems faced by the people of Qarani that needed someone more than a doctor.

"It was when I was posted to Qarani when I saw the need for doctors to be closely working with people to solve problems and provide support to the community so they are looked after properly.

"We're not just there to give injections and treat patients," Dr Ram said.

He said most of the problems he faced at Qarani required the sharing of hygienic and sanitary knowledge and practices, dietary advice among other basic medical knowledge to make a difference in villagers' lives.

"In turn, this sharing will work as a preventative measure that will allow villagers to avoid sicknesses like high blood pressure, non-communicable diseases and other diseases that could hamper their daily lives," Dr Ram said.

He took this realisation to his next posting in Vunisea, Kadavu where he directly engaged the people there to improve their lives in terms of healthy living.

It was there that he finally made up his mind to go into the area of public health with the specific focus on community medicine and disease control.

He managed to do further studies at Sydney University and attained other qualifications from the prestigious Harvard University in the US and South Korea where he studied public health, population health and management of health programs in developing countries.

When he returned he was posted to Nausori and Labasa as a divisional medical officer and later the Ministry of Health headquarters.

It was only after he joined the private sector in 1999 that Dr Ram became directly involved with people at community level and finally the chance to put into practice what he thought is the way medicine should be practised — empowering people to take responsibility for their own lives.

"The idea is to look at health at a personal level where we ask each individual what do they need to do in order to improve their health be it diet, food security, sanitation and other aspects of their lives that have a direct effect on their health so it can be fixed and ensure they have a quality life," Dr Ram said.

His first project was in 2004 where he helped set up the Fiji Kidney Foundation which saw the direct involvement of the community in medicinal care for renal disease sufferers.

At the same time he had set up Action for Children and the Aged Care Program (ACATA) Trust and he is devoting all his time to this.

Together with the Koronivia Vegetable Cooperative Farmers organisation, the ACATA Trust is working on a nutrition and food safety program targeting children and the elderly.

"There is an urgent need to address nutritional and dietary issues because as you can see many things have changed the way people eat nowadays and with it comes the many problems and diseases that is breaking down social integration, that is how far reaching the effects of this thing really is," Dr Ram said.

In this quest, the ACATA Trust has engaged the Fiji National University, the Ministry of Education and the iTaukei Affairs Board northern office to implement a health, nutrition and wellness policy.

This policy is aimed at promoting good dietary practices at these workplaces which Dr Ram hopes can be translated by the workers to a large number of people like their families and friends.

For Dr Ram, the fight is not finished. He hopes his work will ensure behavioural changes so we can build a healthy nation.

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