My Story: Hyderabadi Techie Quits Infosys To Turn Health Activist

Fifty-year-old Mujtaba Hasan Askari (Health Activist) is an unassuming and down to earth man with the best of credentials one can dream: a product of Hyderabad Public School (Begumpet), a mechanical engineering degree from Osmania University and a long-time techie with software major Infosys for two decades.

Everything was going smooth for Mujtaba but suddenly, he quit his cushy job in 2014 to be a full-time social worker cum activist to help the poor and downtrodden in health sector.

Helping Hand Foundation

His humble beginning in the charitable health sector started in 2007 with the establishment of Helping Hand Foundation, a non-profit organization registered in Hyderabad. Seven years before he turned into an activist full-time, Mujtaba has been a tireless crusader to help the marginalized sections get better health care in the crumpling public health facilities  but a time came in 2014 he could no longer balance both his IT career and his interests as a health activist simultaneously.

“I reached a point when workload in my NGO increased so much that it became difficult for me to continue my IT career. There was no other option than to quit,” reminisces Mujtaba.

Why health care sector ?

The dearth of health care in public sector is so huge that 70% of the people are forced to access private health care in India. This poses a huge socio economic impact for the economically weaker sections, who cannot afford high out of pocket expenses for accessing health care and end up landing up in debts, poverty and irreversible economic situation.

“Every day, I see at least 4– 5 such cases every day and this is primarily because of the poor public health delivery and the perception and stigma attached to government hospitals that forces people to shun them,” said Mujtaba, managing trustee & president of the NGO Helping Hand Foundation.

However, the NGO helps patients overcome this mental block, thereby facilitating not just access to public health facilities but also save precious lives and prevent families from debts and poverty.

There is another core reason that Mujtaba wants lay people to understand when they shy away from public health systems: That it is the bounden duty of the state and central governments to provide health for everyone by virtue of Right to Life being a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution.

Though the private sector provides quality care, it comes with a high cost and the public sector is crumpled with lack of capacity, budgets, inefficient governance and low productivity and commitment of doctors. This scenario needs to change (and his NGO is doing its bit in this regard) if we as a country, we want to progress and be productive.

The NGO’s reach

Since 2007, NGO Helping Hand Foundation’s volunteers — most of them travel by motorcycles to cut the congested Hyderabad city traffic — have directly reached out to five lakh distressed patients in Hyderabad. In order to encourage more and more people to leverage the public health care system, they have set up patient counselors in all major Government hospitals in Hyderabad.

The counsellors — each sees at least 50 – 100 cases each day and collectively they handle close to 450 – 500 cases in the hospitals where they work — help patients access health facilities by helping them in terms of guiding, assisting and financially supporting the patients on case by case basis.

Recent successes

Besides routinely taking up cases of marginalized sections, the NGO actively fights for victims of medical negligence and unethical medical practice in different legal forums. For instance, they took up the case of Veena and Vani — the conjoined twins who lived almost 10 years in one single cluttered room in a hospital — and only after they filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in in High Court, the government moved them into a Children’s home.

In another case, the NGO took up a legal fight against a doctor before the State Medical Council after the former  falsely claimed to be a medical oncologist and cheated hundreds of cancer patients by giving false hope. Similarly, the NGO headed by Mujtaba took up five maternal mortality deaths reported in the Niloufer Hospital in March 2017 with the State Human Rights Commission but legal redressal is yet to happen in this case.

The NGO also judiciously resorts to Right to Information (RTI) Act and uses the data gathered to conduct in depth field surveys in areas of health.

Future goal

Well, so far, so good but Mujtaba is yet to reach his ultimate goal. “My ultimate aim is to fight for a system, which can give quality health care at affordable cost to the most needy of the society,” he told Such idealism is also fraught with several hurdles too. “This is a not going to be easy, given lack of value for human life coupled with lack of vision and commitment by political leadership and inefficiency and corruption in the system,” acknowledged Mujtaba.

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