Care beyond barriers: A doctor and his healing touch for tribals in Kerala

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Express News Service

PATHANAMTHITTA: Whenever Dr J Vincent Xavier reaches tribal hamlets, he calls everyone there ‘makka’. “Makka means children. All residents of tribal hamlets, irrespective of age, are children for me. So they started calling me ‘Makka Doctor’,” says Dr Vincent, the medical officer at the primary health centre in Seethathodu panchayat. 

The 55-year-old has completed 18 years of medical service in the panchayat nestled among forests and hills. Of a total area of 651.94 sq km, forests make up 602.27 sq km. Even when he gets late night calls requesting medical help for any tribal person inside the dense jungle, Dr Vincent sets out quickly braving the threat of wild animals like elephants, leopards and tigers. And for the tribal persons and the people of Gavi, his is a reassuring presence.

“Now it is painful for me to stay away from the area even for a day,” he says. To keep a tab on the health of Gavi residents, he also reaches the hill station once a week. Gavi is ward number three, around 60km away from the Seethathodu panchayat office. There are 120 tribal families in Moozhiyar and Gavi, with a majority belonging to the Malampandaram tribe. Most of them lead a scattered and nomadic life. Normally, Dr Vincent travels to wherever they are inside the forest once in a week. Besides medical equipment, he also carries essential food items, and sweets for children, in his vehicle.

Dr Vincent is a native of Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu, the youngest of five children born to P John, a sales tax officer, and K Nesammal, who was a teacher. His three sisters and brother are engineers. “It was my parents’ dream to make me a doctor, and I worked hard to make their dream a reality.”

He completed MBBS from the Tirunelveli Medical College in 1990 and worked at a hospital in his hometown for ten years. After his marriage to Mini, a Thiruvananthapuram resident, he settled in the state capital. In 2003, he received a job with the Kerala health department, his first appointment being in Seethathodu.

“I realised I have to go inside the forest to provide medical care. I was scared to know about the presence of wild animals en route to the tribal hamlets. Initially, I wanted to leave the job or get a transfer. But when I realised the pathetic condition of the tribal people and the poor, I decided this is the right place to offer my service,” Dr Vincent says. 

Manikandan, a Sri Lankan Tamil in Gavi, had this to say: “He is a fatherly figure for us. Even in bad weather, he reaches our doorsteps. Though we don’t have a good hospital here, we have a good doctor to wipe our tears of pain.” 

“We are proud that our Adivasi population don’t have to wait for medical care as our doctor is just a call away,” says Seethathodu panchayat president Joby T Easow. Dr Vincent’s wife, Mini, and daughter, VM Ashkana, preparing for higher studies after Plus Two, are behind him with all support.



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