Dubai // For Isaac Thomas, a 49-year-old Indian worker who earns Dh600 a month and has no medical insurance, the voluntary work of a small group of doctors is his lifeline.
Mr Thomas suffered a minor heart attack last year and needed an urgent operation. Unable to afford hospital care, he turned to a medical camp held every three months at the Indian Consulate in Dubai that arranges free treatment and medication for low-income workers.
The camps, which have been held since 2007, are organised by the Indian Ladies Association in Dubai together with the Indian Consulate, Getwell Medical Center and the Indian Pharmaceutical Professionals Council. About 18 volunteer doctors perform check-ups on workers earning less than Dh2,000 a month and who have no health coverage.
Through the camps Mr Thomas received a free angioplasty procedure in Kerala, India, last April, and he has been receiving follow-up care in Dubai since then.
"I am glad that I had the choice of life because I received free treatment through this camp," Mr Thomas, a father of two who has worked in construction in Dubai for the past 13 years, said at the latest camp yesterday.
Dr AK Kapoor, a cardiologist and one of the founding members of the camps, said: "For people like Mr Thomas, who cannot afford medical treatment, these quarterly camps have become a lifeline. They come here to follow up on illness they know about or to discover unknown conditions they are suffering from."
Mr Thomas was one of about 700 workers from the Asian subcontinent who queued outside the consulate from 7am. They were given a token and asked to fill in a registration form before being sent to the consulate's auditorium, where dozens of round tables were used as makeshift medical stations.
After having their blood sugar level and pressure tested, the workers were examined by a general practitioner and, if needed, referred to a specialist in the room.
"Many workers cannot afford to pay for medical treatment and thus neglect their health," said Kusum Chheda, a member of the Indian Ladies Association and one of 60 people helping at the camp.
"Some of them are suffering from serious conditions such as diabetes or hypertension but do not even know about it, so these camps have proved important as they give low income workers an opportunity to be treated for free.
"Many of the people with chronic diseases such as hypertension are receiving medicine for a three-month period," she added. "This is important because if they cannot get the medicine from us they would go without it and their health will suffer."
One of the beneficiaries of the medicine handouts is Mohammed Deshish, a 63-year-old Pakistani watchman who has lived in Dubai for 38 years.
"They provide me with my diabetic medicine. I could not afford it alone," he said.
On average, about Dh50,000 worth of medicine is distributed at each camp, according to the Indian Ladies Association. The medicines are usually donated by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies.
If a case is complicated or requires immediate follow-up, the patient is asked to visit the doctors at their own clinics, free of charge.
"Lending a hand for these people is crucial as many who come here have serious health conditions but no means to treat themselves," said Dr Sarita Kapoor, a gynaecologist and one of the founders of the initiative.
"I feel that I need to provide help for them as God has given many gifts and I need to give something back to him and society."