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Retired, but not tired

india Updated: Jan 01, 2007 02:38 IST
Ashok Das

At first glance, he looks like a member of an opera party. With a colourful crown on his head and strings of garlands of various hues dangling from his neck, he alights from a public transport bus at one of the roadside villages.

As curious onlookers gather around him, he starts his sales pitch - beginning with greetings and ending with horror stories of HIV/AIDS victims. Citing examples of victims he treated at the primary health centre at the port city of Kakinada, he tells the crowd HIV/AIDS has no cure. The only way to be safe, he says, is to stick to one sexual partner, and use condoms when in doubt. He also advises them about physical hygiene and the dangers of consanguineous marriage. Marriages among close relatives are common in coastal Andhra, resulting in high rate of genetic disorders among children.

Meet Dr Viswanath Rao aka Doctor Baba. A retired government doctor, he has been touring the villages near Kakinada spreading the message of HIV/AIDS for the past 10 years. Kakinada is part of the East Godavari district, which has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the state.

A normal day for Dr Rao means a bus ride to one of the nearby villages to sensitise the people about the threat of HIV/AIDS. He is by now a familiar face and people greet him wherever he goes. Of course his reputation as a medical practitioner helps make people listen.

"Though I retired 10 years ago I still feel I have a duty to the society. As long as my health permits I will continue to spread the message. There is lot of ignorance about HIV/AIDS. I have seen the life of so many young people cut short because of the disease. I felt I should do something," he says.

Dr Rao has scrupulously avoided taking help from any quarter. He spends his own money for travel. "I get pension and that takes care of my bus fares, which are not much. I don't have to spend money on anything else," he adds.

The family is firmly behind Dr Rao.

"We are proud of him. Post-retirement people feel that they have outlived their utility. At least he is contributing to the society in his own way," son Prasad said.