He is a saviour for many. Indian expat Sreedharan Prasad, 59, who just completed 40 years in the UAE on February 19, 2019, said it was nothing but a hand of God that led him to the expat community in a selfless manner.
Prasad was only 19 when he left home in Trivandrum, Kerala, to come and work as a radiographer in Ras Al Khaimah. Forty years on, he still lives in Ras Al Khaimah and works as a radiographer, but what has changed in four long decades is his outlook towards life and people.
"As a teenager stepping out of my comfort zone in India, all I wanted was to make money and save for the future. In the first letter my father wrote to me, after I started working in Ras Al Khaimah 40 years ago, he stressed on two things - obey the law of the land and serve your community. I still have a copy of his letter as every time I look at it, I am inspired to do more for he community welfare,” he said.
Prasad said he celebrated his 40th anniversary in the UAE with a walk down the memory lane and reflecting upon certain incidents he came across that changed his perspective towards life.
"Nobody knows what the future holds for us. Yeoman Service that some people undertake to do, is not something they might have planned in their life. Yet destiny brings them together and this is what happened with me. As if to challenge my wits, certain incidents in my life circumstances pushed me to serve the community, which I now believe was to shape my personality," “I am grateful to the UAE for giving me the opportunity to serve the expat population of UAE,” says Prasad with much pride.
Prasad works as a radiographer by the day at the Al Jazirah Al Hamra Health Centre, a public health care centre of Ministry of Health and Prevention in Ras Al Khaimah. And when he is not working, he is serving people with all his heart. He previously worked at Saif Bin Ghobash Hospital and then Saqr Hospital where he was employed for 28 years before moving to Al Hamra Health Centre.
“My hands should be clean and when I die, my chest should be up,” said Prasad.
“When I was young my father told me I should pursue things, which bring me satisfaction and contentment. Helping people in need just gives me that pleasure,” he said as a matter of fact.
In all these years, this Ras Al Khaimah resident has worked relentlessly to ensure the community is well served.
One of the things, Prasad credited for in the community is revolutionising the system in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah to enable repatriation of bodies, 24 hours from the time of death.
Prasad said a horrific incident which took place 25 years ago prompted him to take up the cause of sending the mortal remains of people who died in Ras Al Khaimah back home. The incident is said to have shaken him badly, which set him thinking about the system in place and how it can be improved to speed the process of repatriation of bodies from Ras Al Khaimah.
“There was a tragic incident with a young Indian man who died in a horrific road accident 17 years ago. The man was from Kerala, in his early 20s. He had just returned from a vacation after his marriage, only to die in the road tragically in a road accident.”
“The days that ensued were one of the most painful journeys in my life. It was a long weekend and it took a week to process the paperwork to send his mortal remains home.”
“His body was lying in the mortuary like an orphan all this time. His family back home was desperate to receive him so they could do the final rites. But nothing could be done. My heart was bleeding."
But the Ras Al Khaimah-based Keralite since the accident worked hard to change the system with relevant authorities to ensure speedy repatriation of bodies. Prasad also stays busy every other day processing the paper work for repatriation of bed-ridden patients. Since this time, he has helped repatriate hundreds of bodies and thousands of bed-ridden patients back home.
"It is the least we can do for a fellow human," he said.
“Today, I can proudly say that in Ras Al Khaimah we are repatriating bodies, 24 hours from the time of a person’s death.”
On February 1, fulfilling a long-pending demand of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) in the Gulf countries, the state government of Kerala in India announced that the mortal remains of expats will be flown home free of cost.
Prasad recalled another incident which left him equally distressed about an Indian man from Punjab, Gurmej Singh, who was on a visit to the UAE. "Singh was in a road accident that left him paralysed chest down. Locating his family in India was a challenge as the sponsor did not have his family’s contact details. As a result, they were unaware of his condition and hospitalisation. It took us several days to finally locate his family and inform loved ones."
“I took the help of the Indian Consulate who stepped forward to take care of Singh's hospital bills. It was very sad to see him lying in the hospital like an orphan without any family near him. Finally when we managed to send him home, I was so relieved. In fact after a couple of months I made a trip to India just to visit him in his house located close to Amritsar. It was an emotional reunion. Today, I am still in touch with the family. Infact I got a wedding invitation from his family last week."
How it started
Prasad came to Ras Al Khaimah in 1979. “I still hold onto to my first passport. Back in the days there were many abandoned fishermen and blue collar workers dumped by errant employers. The abandoned workers were left to fend for themselves and they desperately needed financial and moral support,” he recalled.
Working in the medical field also means he constantly meets patients in financial distress. “Medical treatment used to be free in the UAE, but once the health-care system came into effect, people had to pay a nominal fee for this. Many workers could not afford even this.”
He also joined a non-profit-organisation called Sevanam (English translation reads service) with over 10,000 volunteers and this gave him an opportunity to serve a larger community.
Prasad, who has dealt with numerous welfare cases, is also member of the Indian Consulate-General volunteer medical committee. "Repatriating bedridden patients is a cumbersome affair. If one is not aware of the procedure, it can cause a delay in the whole process.”
Process of repatriating bedridden patients
If you want to repatriate a bedridden patient back to India with the support from the consulate, you have to follow the steps."
“The latest medical report from the consulting doctor and a special form from the airline to repatriate a stretcher patient should be obtained. The doctor has to certify the patient is fit to travel. He has to specify the patient needs a stretcher till the aircraft and whether he or she needs to be accompanied by a doctor, a nurse or a non-medical escort. It is imperative to be clear about oxygen, suction or any other medical equipment that maybe required onboard,” he explained.
"After the form is filled, it has to be submitted to the airline office along with a medical report and the patient's passport copy. They will send it to the airline medical officer for approval. The family needs to obtain permission from the airline’s medical team in India. Once the approval is obtained, the airline officials concerned will contact the engineering department to arrange a stretcher facility," he continued.
According to Prasad, regarding the availability of the stretcher, the engineering department gives a date for the passenger to fly. In case oxygen is required, it may take more time. If the patient can't afford the cost and the sponsor is not ready to bear the expenses, Indian diplomatic missions in Abu Dhabi or Dubai can be approached with all the documents for speeding up approval."
"These documents include medical report, airline stretcher request form filled and signed by the treating doctor, a passport copy with visa page of the patient, a passport copy of the escort person, if needed," he said.
"The other document requirements include a no-objection letter from the sponsor and an acceptance letter from the hospital where the patient will be treated on arrival. The sponsor has to state in the letter that he is not able to bear the repatriation expenses."
"Once the patient receives the ticket, its copy has to be given to hospital PRO for processing gate pass. You have to inform the ward in charge about the exact date and time of departure. You also have to inform the airport clinic about the patient 48 hours before departure. They will charge Dh450 while receiving the patient, and if you are late in giving information, you have to pay Dh650."
If suction is required, it has to be arranged from the hospital in the UAE, he explained. "Operation manual has to be given to the Air India office, and they will obtain permission from the engineering department," Sreedharan said.
So what next for this expat?
"Just continue doing what I am. If everyone takes the step to serve the community in a little way, it is great."