express news service
Pathanamthitta: Whenever Dr J Vincent Xavier reaches the tribal settlements, everyone there is called ‘Mecca’. “Makkah means children. All residents of tribal settlements, irrespective of their age, are children to me. So they started calling me ‘Makkah doctor’,” says Dr. Vincent, medical officer of the primary health center of Seethathodu panchayat Huh.
The 55-year-old has completed 18 years of medical service in a panchayat nestled amidst forests and hills. Out of the total area of 651.94 sq km, forests make up 602.27 sq km. Even when he receives a late night call requesting medical help for a tribal man inside the dense forest, Dr. Vincent quickly sets out to counter the menace of wild animals such as elephants, leopards and tigers. Huh. And for the Aborigines and the people of Gavi, their presence is a reassuring presence.
“Now it’s painful for me to be away from the area even for a day,” he says. He also visits the hill station once a week to keep an eye on the health of the people of Gavi. Gavi is ward number three, which is about 60 km from Seethathodu Panchayat office. There are 120 tribal families in Moozhiar and Gavi, most of whom belong to the Malampandaram tribe. Most of them lead a scattered and nomadic life. Usually Doctor Vincent goes somewhere inside the forest once a week. Apart from medical equipment, he also carries essential food items and sweets for the 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, 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 come true.”
He completed MBBS from Tirunelveli Medical College in 1990 and worked in a hospital in his hometown for ten years. After marrying Mini, a resident of Thiruvananthapuram, he settled in the state capital. In 2003, he got a job in the Kerala Health Department, his first appointment at Seethathodu.
“I realized that I would have to go inside the forest to provide medical care. I was horrified to learn about the presence of wild animals on the way to the tribal settlements. Initially, I wanted to leave the job or get a transfer. But when I realized the pathetic condition of the tribal people and the poor, I decided that this is the right place for me to serve,” says Dr Vincent.
Sri Lankan Tamil Manikandan in Gavi had this to say: “He is like a father figure to us. He reaches our doorstep even in bad weather. Though we don’t have a good hospital here, we have a good doctor to wipe away the tears of pain.”
“We are proud that our tribal population does not have to wait for medical care as our doctors are just a call away,” says Jobi T Iso, president of Seethathodu panchayat. Dr Vincent’s wife Mini and daughter VM Ashkana, who are preparing for higher education after Plus Two, are behind him with full support.