There is Injustice and Indignity in Medicine.

UPDATED: View the online version of the exhibit at the William P. Didusch Center for Urology History Museum website. Download the PDF brochure (10mb) and the impressive full exhibition panels (246mb!).

I just returned from our annual American Urological Association Conference in Atlanta, an exhilarating event promoting research and academic exchanges in urology. 

The week long conference was attended by nearly twenty thousand participants from around the World. 

I was honored to receive a Presidential Citation Award acknowledging my humanitarian services. Though I am sure there are friends equally, or more, deserving of such an accolade, I selfishly enjoyed the recognition.

My main involvement in the meeting concerned urologic history.

This year, on my behest, the Urologic History Committee agreed to have “Injustice and Inequities in Medicine” as the main theme. 

We had a wonderfully artistic and aesthetic exhibit with multiple large panels depicting the injustice and indignities in medicine chronicled from the pre-Christian era through centuries to the Nazi atrocities and the relatively modern human experimentations conducted by US Public Health Service and other elite institutions.

The exhibit was hailed as our best ever.

The committee also published an anthology titled “Skeletons in the closet – the injustice and indignities in Medicine”.

It contained papers written by international authors detailing the themes in the panels of the exhibit. It was a hot seller.

I also gave my talk on the the syphilitic experiments conducted in Guatemala by the US Public Health Service (PHS):

Syphilitic experiments on Guatemalan citizens – another skeleton in the closets of US Public Health Service

Syphilitic experiments conducted on the prisoners, mental patients and children of Guatemala by US Public Health Service (PHS), constitute a sinister chapter in the history of medicine manifesting gross violation of code of ethics and blatant neglect of autonomy. It is important for mankind to be aware of such reprehensible practice in the name of research, so that similar heinous acts may not be repeated.

Our moral judgement and human decency behooves upon us to remain vigilant in upholding the code of medical ethics so that the disadvantaged and disenfranchised human beings are not deprived of their autonomy even in the interest of science.

Overall it was an enchanting conference evoking many deep personal and emotional feelings.

— Sakti Das, May 2012.

Haiti Mon Amour

Haiti envelops me, embraces me, engulfs me in her unconditional love. And so little I can give back in return.

This was my second trip since the devastating earthquake. Sadly nothing much seems to have changed; people living in the same tents, perilously tilting buildings and broken roadways strewn with garbage and rubble.

I arrived with my dear friend Paul Schellhammer to work on filariasis eradication as part of the University of Notre Dame Haiti program

TamaraAs I slowly tugged my suitcase through the airport, I heard the happy tinkling of laughter calling my name. It was my Haitian daughter Tamara, she embraced me in her arms. We chatted about her academic performance as she had just finished her second semester at the University of Haiti, studying finance and administration. 

My friend Paul was impressed by Tamara’s beauty, poise and personality. We listened to her incessant chat as she hitched a ride on our journey to Leogane.

By the time we reached Leogane’s Residence Filariose, I was tired and sleepy from my redeye flight. We met the staff and received a briefing from Father Tom Streit, a highly erudite academician who has been running the Notre Dame Haiti Program for 16 years

D Isma

Our next five days at the Sainte Croix Hospital were spent in all–day surgeries. I loved working with Dr Isma, a young Haitian urologist. Some of the surgeries were complex but we sailed through. 

I also met several dedicated young people constructing schools and erecting solar panels in Leogane. The dedication of these young Haitians humbled me.

Soon, it was time to leave, with a promise to return. On our way to Port-au-Prince we noticed the statue of the ‘free black man’, Neg Mawon, still standing in front of the devastated Haitian National Palace. The conch shell in his upturned mouth calling Haiti’s people to gather and fight for freedom and dignity.

I think of the resilience of this first free black nation through centuries of political mayhem in the hands of dictators backed by our Western nations.

Neg Mawon P’ap Jamn Kraze’ – The Freeman Will Never Be Broken.

I Left My Heart in Gaza

March 2011 marked my second trip to Palestine with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). The first was to Jenin a few years ago.

My dear friend Steve Sosebee, an American and President of PCRF, picked me up from my hotel in Ramallah from where we drove two hours to reach the Israel-Gaza border.

Going through the check point into the kilometre-long wire-fenced walkway, strewn with surveillance cameras, was a surreal experience reminding me of the entrance to the gas chambers in the movie “Schindler’s List”.

On reaching the Gaza side, Suhail, our friend from PCRF picked us up and drove us to Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital where I immediately started triaging children for our surgery list with Doctor Fayez, a young Gaza urologist who graduated and trained in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Over the next five days, Fayez and I performed often complex surgeries on 25 children. The staff, both male and female, were very accommodating. I was very impressed by Fayez’s surgical skills but more so for his humility. We promised to keep in touch.  

I was often exhausted, having to rest between surgeries while Fayez continued. I always looking forward to our communal lunch at about 4pm.

My hotel was an hour from the hospital. From the hotel Suhail would take me for dinner at exquisite restaurants with delectable fish entrees. One evening Fayez joined us with his beautiful wife and daughter.

Every day at Al Aqsa, after surgery and my rounds, we would meet the children and smiling Gaza mothers in their hijabs and niqabs. A gratifying experience that I will cherish. 

On the last day Suhail drove me around Gaza City and then up to Jabalia, the largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps.

Throughout the journey the sight of shell-shattered buildings, devastated, scorched and demolished neighborhoods, rows of cut down olive trees, all bearing the signature of brutal Israeli atrocities, made me feel sad and responsible. I told Suhail,

“I am sorry that my tax payer’s money is responsible for destruction of your country.”

By then I was scared to return through the Israeli check point. Suhail reassured me and accompanied me through the border and up to my hotel in East Jerusalem.

I fell in love with Gaza, its mild mannered, hard working people, the beautiful loving and smiling eyes of the women in their head scarves.

They deserve justice to be free in their own country, to raise their children in their own land with dignity. I truly left my heart in Gaza.

— Sakti Das, 26 March 2011.

If this has inspired you, read more about the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and:

Other groups supporting PCRF’s work: Medical Aid for PalestiniansPalestine Solidarity Campaign.

A candid quote from Sakti while he was there:

This is my third day here. Really enjoying it, though it is physically taxing, so many children to operate upon and so many complex problems. There were two bombs here today sent by Israeli drones but nobody is concerned.

Don’t forget to leave your comments and questions below.

April in Haiti

Three months after the 7.0-earthquake hit Haiti, our team of 22 volunteers from Sionfonds for Haiti, made up of nurses, doctors, dentists and a midwife, arrived into the mayhem of Port-au-Prince’s newly built airport with boxes of medical supplies and great enthusiasm.

While attempting to sort our baggage I was delighted to meet two Indian nuns from the Missionaries of Charities in their familiar blue bordered sarees – one of them has been serving in Haiti for twenty years.

We soon found our ever smiling Haitian director Guesno, he welcomed us and lead us to the waiting van for our two hour drive to the orphanage we help run.

Fortunately, the orphanage was still standing, unharmed amidst the surrounding rubble of earthquake wrecked buildings, broken roads and piled up garbage. After playing with the orphaned children and checking their status, we started another grueling 4-hour drive to Jacmel:


Our clinic in Jacmel was set up at the local NGO hospital where we saw some 3,000 patients that poured in from neighboring villages for much needed care.

In addition to medical treatment we were able to provide dental care, minor surgery and prenatal care.

After 3 days in Jacmel we drove another four hours towards the hills to set up another clinic at a newly built church. We were joined by two Haitian doctors and scores of young willing Haitian volunteers interpreting and helping in the clinic pharmacy.

Amidst all the chaos it was a gratifying experience making a little difference in the destitute lives of the poor Haitians, especially with the involvement of the local community.

As the Sionfonds team prepared to move onto the next 3-day clinic, I returned with 6 others to Port-au-Prince for our early departure the next day.

As we drove through the ruined capital, the sight of Haitians shacking in thousands of crudely erected tent cities, children running around stinking garbage, women lining up for water, the overall sense of disaster was heart breaking. In the evening it started to rain and the rising stench of sewage was overwhelming.

More than 3 months have gone by and hardly any rebuilding help towards Haiti was evident to us. Our Haitian friends sadly complained how the US army has deserted them in the hands of incompetent UN workers. 

Nobody Seemed to Care for Haiti. But Haiti Will Survive.

The first independent black nation in modern history has proved their resilience through waves of historic calamity. The phoenix of hope and tenacity shall rise from the ashes and rubble of Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile I shall pray and continue the efforts to rebuild the new Haiti.

– Sakti Das, 2010.


Sakti was in Haiti 3 months after the quake. Here’s an in-depth report from Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines, “Haiti: Six months on”:

The Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” has done a great job of collating some of the most striking and painful imagery of and after the quake:

6 months on, the coverage drips in… BBC Haiti recovery stalled by aid and land issuesOrphans of Haiti … NYT After Quake, Haitians With Dreams Look for an ExitHaitian Orphans Have Little but One Another … Change.orgA Better Path For Haiti’s RecoveryAJE Haiti’s dilapidated hospitalsBangladesh deploys female UN peacekeepers.

Please consider donating & supporting work in Haiti via Sionfonds for Haiti

We’ll be adding a list of Haitian groups to support shortly, but if you are looking to start now head over to Sean Penn’s J/PHRO

January in India & Bangladesh

Last month was another one of my annual visits to India and Bangladesh to look into our schools, rural development projects and micro credit schemes.

School Visit

Visiting our schools enables us to meet the children, assess their progress and arrange ongoing scholarship support. Above all we emphasize and encourage their focus on the goal of higher studies leading to meaningful self-reliance.

In Bangladesh I visited a non-governmental primary school near the sprawling city of Khulna. Khulna was my ancestral hometown in the 60s before we emigrated to Kolkata.

The school of 202 children, divided amongst five classes, has been run by 3 female teachers and a headmaster since 1986. All with miniscule financial help from the City Municipality.

Teachers receive salaries one-tenth of government school teachers, yet they love the students and show an exemplary dedication to teaching.

I assessed their needs of enhancing teachers’ salaries, hot lunches or snacks and school uniforms. Once the legal logistics of money transfer through another existing NGO are cleared, we’ll start channeling help to them.

Another School and a town City

After taking the the opportunity to visit my old St Joseph’s school with some friends I ventured through a radically changed Khulna.

Gone are those bucolic sparsely populated streets with flowering trees, ponds and playing grounds. Unrelenting development has erased and demolished almost all the old structures, now replaced with high-rises and wide paved streets.

Our House

My geographic sense was totally confused. I was almost on the verge of tears not being able to locate our ancestral home; suddenly I found the house where I was born and spent my childhood.

All the neighboring houses have been replaced leaving only our dilapidated house standing in vigil for my return. The neighbors helped me get in through the back door to the large courtyard where we had papaya and a tall flowering Shefali tree. Our small chicken coup was still standing.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked out unnoticed. I whispered,

“Sorry my friend that we deserted you. But we both are the victims of religio-political strifes like millions of others. At least you waited for our final reunion. I love you my beautiful birthplace.”

Unoccupied and falling apart from neglect, I found my long lost Taj Mahal.

– Sakti Das, 2010.

  • The remainder of Dr Das’ trip included surgeries in rural Guajrat where he was also able to add his O+ mark to an 11,111-strong petition battling an industrialist and Government to stop a cement works displacing 55,000 farmers, 15 villages and inflicting untold damage to livelihoods and environment – sadly, not uncommon in our ‘modern’ India…

    He was also able to meet Baber Ali, the young headmaster we blogged about last month – very much impressed by this now-18yo, he’ll be keeping in touch to see how Baber can be helped.

Youngest Headmaster in the World

At 16 years old, Babar Ali must be the youngest headmaster in the world. He’s a teenager who is in charge of teaching hundreds of students in his family’s backyard, where he runs classes for poor children from his village.

The story of this young man from Murshidabad in West Bengal is a remarkable tale of the desire to learn amid the direst poverty.

CRC @ 20: All Rights, All Children.

With 193 signatories, The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the history of the United Nations.

On the 20th Anniversary only two nations remain on the wrong side of <everything> having yet to ratify the CRC: Somalia* and The United States of America.

*UPDATE – Nov 20: ‘failed state’ of Somalia has agreed to ratify the CRC treaty.

Dear USA: Why Not?!
Yours Sincerely, Children of the World. :)

Many wonder why the USA hasn’t ratified the treaty… unsurprisingly, the usual suspects are at work, as you will see in this report:


We’ll leave you with this quote from not-yet-President Obama in a 2008 debate:

“It’s embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land.”

Apparently, he is not embarrassed enough.

Please contact the Whitehouse and turn up the volume:

Email the President from…

Comments line: 202-456-1111 / Switchboard: 202-456-1414

The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500

**Photo credit: “Afghan children played in the Kochi refugee camp on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan…”Reuters/Athar Hussain

Namaste Bangladesh

Trip report from Josephine…

Namaste, a simple greeting with a profound meaning: “bow down to the supreme-being within.”

It resonates perfectly with the reason we are in Bangladesh, acknowledging the supreme-being within our patients and a belief that each of us has the divine right to receive good medical care.

For 4 years, Uncle Sakti has traveled to the remote LAMB hospital, this being my second trip, I am again struck by the need for urologists in the area.

Josephine H Tamola, Sakti Das & Tina SasakiWe were accompanied by Dr. Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, the premier reconstructive surgeon in India, Tina Sasaki, a general surgery resident from Alameda County Medical Center, and Dr. Preman, a UK anesthesiologist.

The patients have been waiting a year for our team to arrive, having traveled long distances for surgery or just a clinical consultation. With help from our LAMB colleagues, we tackled complex urological surgeries such as vesicovaginal fistulas, urethral strictures and hypospadias.

Urological conditions significantly impact quality of life. Women with vesicovaginal fistulas are ostracized from society because of the constant leakage of urine. Urinary obstruction from stricture disease results in prolonged catherization and severe morbidity. These conditions occur in young men and women with no other comorbidities – patients suffer for decades with these problems.

Surgery has changed patients’ quality of life, allowing them to shed the social stigma associated with their urological condition. I feel truly privileged to have the trust of my patients and I am blessed to offer my service.

This brings me back to the greeting namaste. Our work here in Bangladesh made me serve and prostrate to the supreme-being in my patients, allowing that supreme-being to manifest its full potential.

Insha’Allah I shall return to the enchanting land of Bangladesh to serve the wonderful people here.

Photo: Josephine H Tamola – Sakti Das – Tina Sasaki

World Food Day & Child Hunger

On October 16th the World prepares to celebrate World Food Day. For the first time in history more than one billion people are chronicly hungry – and over 400 million of them are children. Approximately every six seconds a child dies from hunger-related causes.

Just what does it really take to save starving kids around the globe?

Al Jazeera’s Inside Story presenter Sohail Rahman is joined by guests Margaret Schuler, the associate vice president of Save the Children, Dr. John Hoddinott, a senior research fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute, and Mark Smulders, a senior economist with FAO food security and agricultural projects analysis service.

My annual pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors

Bangladesh, a land of lush verdant fields resplendent with abundant crops, rivers and waterways crowded with Rui, Katla, Hilsa, all kinds of delectable fishes, even the memories make you salivate and crave with desire.

I imagine the boats gliding over the gentle shimmering water transporting or fishing and the boatmen singing with the backdrop of setting sun at the dusk. Nostalgia makes me ache.

This beautiful nation of millions of warm, cordial and naïve people is on the verge of oblivion.

Global warming is creating havoc, gradually submerging Bangladesh from rising water table, destroying the flora and fauna of the Sunderbans, displacing and drowning people from cyclones and flood.

FlickrThis is a unique example of the nonchalant disregard of our developed world to the plight of humanity at the other end of the world.

It is a mayhem resulting from our actions.

It is a shameful example of how we are striving to maintain our style of living and our extravagant quality of life at the cost of drowning Bangladesh through abysmal climate change.

Yes, Bangladesh can and will survive by its own moral and intellectual strength, but each one of us should nudge ourselves up from complacency and help reverse the calamity that is our doing, our responsibility.

Let us work from individual actions to concerted political pressures to save Bangladesh, my beautiful Bangladesh, my golden Bangladesh.

– Sakti Das, 2009.

  • Dr Das will have a post about his trip and work on the medical mission in Bangladesh when he gets back – or he might even blog on the road!

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