Mangaluru, Jan 12, 2022: A doctor’s profession is among the most demanding ones. The pressure on time is always insistent. City based pediatrician Dr. Bantwal Shantharam Baliga has effortlessly glided through these tight schedules for the better part of three decades – and found time to do more! And where he has contributed the most is in the government sector and the voluntary sector. Thanks to his efforts to improvise the public health care system, critically ill children, whether new born or older, now have a better chance of survival than it once used to be. Today, at 7.4 deaths per 1000 live births, the neonatal mortality rate in the district is much lesser than the state average of 17 per 1000 and the national average of 20 per 1000. Apart from improving neonatal critical care in both public and private health sector, his notable contributions have also been in collaborating with the city corporation to contain Malaria and in providing voluntary professional service to charitable causes like orphan adoption and the care of specially-abled children.
While other private medical colleges have their own teaching hospitals, the Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore have a unique tie up with government health sector. The two main district hospitals – Wenlock and Lady Goschen – serve as its teaching hospitals. This arrangement has been in force since 1953, the year the institution was founded. While teaching as a professor in pediatrics at KMC, the exposure he gained to the plight of the poor patients at the government hospitals struck a chord in Dr. Baliga’s heart and it defined the future course of his life.
Born and brought up in Chikmagalur, Dr. B. Shantharam Baliga’s triggering point came when his sister delivered her child in a local government hospital. Observing the difficulties faced by the other patients in the hospital made him decide to become a doctor and serve society. The spark got ignited for a second time while on duty at Lady Goschen Hospital in mid 80s, when he had to attend to a poor woman who had showed up for her 13th delivery after losing all her children in past deliveries. “After the baby was born, the woman literally fell at my feet pleading to save her child,” recalls Dr. Baliga, “Sadly this baby too died and she never returned. This was a turning point in my life.” Saving new born babies with special facilities was the need of the hour, he realized.
Government hospitals those days were typically driven by bureaucracy and lagging behind in facilities. Dr. Baliga took it upon himself to introduce modern concepts to healthcare and do what the government ought to do. By then he had already set up the city’s first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mangalore Nursing Home. But the cost of such care in private settings was unaffordable to poor patients. His association with Mangalore Medical Relief Society, a voluntary body of doctors of the city of which he has served as Secretary, also proved fruitful.
On his initiative, a High Dependency Unit was set up at Wenlock Hospital and it started showing results with marked decrease in the number of child deaths. Then K. M. Ramdas Prabhu of Prakash Beedies came up with a generous donation of Rs. 4 lakh and the much needed NICU at Lady Goshen finally became a reality in 1998. Setting up the unit was not easy, recalls Dr. Baliga. “Initially the nurses revolted because it would increase their work load. So I appointed two nurses paying from my pocket for almost five years. I used to set aside 30% of my earnings for this and my family supported me,” he says, “Later two Infosys employees, Naren Koduvatthat and Bhaskar came forward to sponsor two additional nurses.”
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Lady Goschen Hospital
Pediatric Instensive Care Unit at Regional Advanced Pediatric Care Centre
Regional Advanced Pediatric Care Centre, Mangalore
This experience made Dr. Baliga to pursue the concept of public-private partnership and he began to actively involve private donors to sponsor cost of treatments or fund the expansion of facilities whenever there was cost overshoot which could not be borne within the government system. The steady decline in child deaths at Wenlock and Lady Goschen opened the eyes of the government and resulted in the setting up of an ultra modern Regional Advanced Pediatric Care Centre (RAPCC) by the state government in Mangalore at a cost of Rs. 12 crore. This project was facilitated by Dr. Baliga and sponsored by Infosys Foundation to the tune of Rs. 6 crore. Today RAPCC along with Wenlock and the fully rebuilt and upgraded Lady Goschen Hospital benefit almost 4000 critically ill poor children annually. The state government also sought his help to set up special newborn care units in 23 district hospitals.
Apart from this, a parallel track on Dr. Baliga’s timeline has seen him playing a proactive role in malaria control in the city ever since its outbreak in the early nineties. Guided by Dr. K. R. Shetty and working with Dr. Srinivas Kakkilaya and the then deputy commissioner Bharatlal Meena, Malaria Control Cell was set up under Mangaluru City Corporation in 1995. In recent years, Dr. Baliga collaborated with the former Infosys executive Naren Koduvattat to develop a customized Malaria Control Software for Mangalore. This software enables the city corporation to continuously monitor the incidences of Malaria and supervise control measures in and around the city. As a result the malaria incidences in the city have reduced from 12,641 in 2015-16 to 1813 in 2019-20. This path breaking project was recognised with “Projects That Work” award during the TUFH conference at Limerick in Ireland.
All along Dr. Baliga has also been providing voluntary services to several charitable organizations like Chetana School for Special Children, the Mangalore Unit of Childline and the Nirmala Welfare Society which facilitates child adoption. Going out of the way and beyond the call of duty seems to have been a habit for Dr. B. Shantharam Baliga right from the beginning of his career. Says Harsha D’souza, a social worker of the city, “Back in the early nineties, when my young nephew was dying due to a fatal rabies infection, no other doctor was willing to visit us. It was only Dr. Baliga who voluntarily visited us every day till the very end. He was a great source of comfort to us in that hopeless situation.”
Dr. Baliga recieving the Lifetime Achievement Award from National Neonatology Forum, Karnataka
But to Dr. Baliga the explanation is simple: “I consider service to society as my professional social responsibility. When I have special knowledge and skills, I feel it is obligatory for me to share some of it freely for the good of all. This concept is similar to corporate social responsibility and I feel every doctor should practice it.”