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Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK, The People's Health Centre) was established in 1972 by Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury and some medical colleagues. From the beginning GK emphasised independent, self-reliant and people-orientated development. Working originally in the health field it has steadily expanded the scope of its work into additional important areas that affect the lives of the majority of rural-based Bangladeshis: education, nutrition, agriculture, employment generation, production of basic medicines and women's emancipation.
It is, however, in the health field that GK's work has been most innovative. It was the first place outside China to train paramedics seriously. About 160 paramedics now cover a population of 180,000 from the GK centre and ten sub-centres that have been established around the country. They are trained in preventive medicine of all kinds and simple curative medicine, and operate a health insurance scheme based on ability to pay. Thanks to their dedicated work, infant and maternal mortality in the operational area of GK have fallen to about half of Bangladesh's national average.
In 1981 GK set up the celebrated company and factory of Gono Pharmaceuticals (GP) to make essential drugs of the highest quality at low cost. It has been a great success and now supplies an average of 5% of all Bangladesh's drugs, but as much as 60% of some categories. Just as importantly, the fact that its prices were as much as 60% below those of the multinationals has meant that prices generally have fallen greatly. The factory employs some 400 people. Half of its profits are reinvested, half go to GK's social projects.
The GK experience meant that Chowdhury was a key adviser to the Bangladesh government in 1982 when it drew up its Essential Drugs Act, proscribing 1,700 dangerous or useless drugs and setting a unique example to other countries of how to control their market for therapeutic drugs. Detailed plans have now been laid for the establishment of an Institute of Health Science that will train doctors specifically in community health and medicine relevant to Bangladesh's needs.
In education and training, GK has an extensive programme. It encompasses literacy for all age-groups and a special emphasis on women's development with a range of income-earning initiatives.
GK is controlled by a charitable trust, of which Chowdhury is one of the four trustees. The Trust now employs some 1,500 people full time, with an additional 1,000 part-time. About half of its budget is self-generated. An important principle is that, except to the absolutely indigent, GK never gives away its goods and services. They have to be paid for, however cheaply. This explains the relatively high self-sufficiency rate.
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury
P.O. Nayarhat Via Dhamrai
House 14 E, Road 6