When Arbinder Singal was growing up, his father used to tell him that one should always give back to society, but with class. “If one focuses on too many problems,” he said, “it is impossible to provide impactful solutions; but if one specializes in solving a specific one, chances are that he/she will really make a difference.”
With his father’s words ringing in his ears, Arbinder specialised in pediatric urology and later committed to curing thousands of kids affected by hypospadias. He founded Hypospadias Foundation to help little boys affected by this disease. Hypospadias hits nearly 1 lakh boys in India every year. It can vary from being a cosmetic defect of the genitalia to the bending of the penis, causing mechanical problems in sexual and reproductive function. Some children may also have Disorder of Sex Development (earlier called DSD) and need hormonal evaluation and chromosomal studies.
When Arbinder was in AIIMS undergoing training in pediatric surgery, he realised that many children and families undergo a lot of pain and suffering not only physically but also psychologically since they do not receive any non-medical support. Parents’ doubts and questions often remain unanswered; the results of surgery are sometimes suboptimal, but no one follows up on how the kids are doing to help them post surgery.
“I felt that I was cheating my little patients by treating them the same way I treated other surgical conditions. I was so disappointed with the whole treatment process for hypospadias that when I left AIIMS in 2005 I decided that I would not do hypospadias surgery in my private practice,” says Arbinder.
Thankfully, he did not stick to his words. He did advanced Pediatric Urology training at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio and worked with Dr VR Jayanthi. “I learnt the finer nuances of surgery there and saw that the results of surgery could be better and more predictable” he explains.
When Arbinder returned to Mumbai, he continued to perform surgeries but, again, he was not satisfied. “Something was still lacking,” he says, “I was convinced that we could give the children and their families a treatment beyond surgery.”
In 2009, he and his team launched Hypospadias Foundation with the aim of providing full and fair information to families, supporting them through the treatment process, arranging funds for low-income patients, and maintaining a good database to understand long term results of the disease. “We also do a lot of academic research in the form of psycho-social surveys and assess doctors’ preparation about hypospadias and publish the findings in international journals,” adds Arbinder.
The team is available in several hospitals – which you can check on the website – and Dr Singal is also available on the e-hospital MediAngels.
The initial capital of Rs 5 lakh for the initiative was put together through donations that Arbinder, his wife, his friends and relatives made. As the team started performing the surgeries, the power of good will, professionalism and perseverance set in place a circle of sustainability for the foundation. Some of the families with a higher income, whose kids have been treated for hypospadias, offered to donate money for poorer patients. The rule now is that families who can afford the medical treatment pay fully for the service, and part of the proceeds go for charity surgery for patients who cannot afford it.
“Now we have a duly 80G registered NGO named One Vision Health & Research Foundation where one of the main objectives is to manage Hypospadias Foundation” Arbinder explains. Moreover, they are planning to raise funds to allow more families with low financial capability to seek treatment for their children. “We also get good consumable and surgical item donations from Stitch In Time, an NGO run by the family of Dr Pramod Reddy, Chief of Pediatric Urology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital,” he adds.
Arbinder is proud to state that they have never refused any patient surgery just because they could not afford it. He agrees that the medical system in India should be more supportive towards those with low income. However, he also adds that money is not necessarily the most important thing. He believes in what his father taught him, “If the intention is powerful no one can stop you in the run.”
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