Outgoing International President of Doctors Without Borders Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, is taking to the road on a bicycle to travel 5,000 kilometres through ten states beginning in Jammu and Kashmir and ending 100 days later in Kerala to spark a dialogue with the general public, medical students, and healthcare providers on health, healthcare, and humanitarianism.
Dr Karunakara started his odyssey from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences on Saturday.
A custom “unnicycles tourer” bicycle provided by German company Schindelhauer was made for Dr Karunakara. He will be joined by various riders along the way, offering camaraderie and their support to raise funds for MSF programmes in India and elsewhere, from Canadian Olympic silver medalist, Helen Upperton, to Indian poet and author Jeet Thayil. This ambitious trek across India will take the riders on highways, country roads, and ferries. In all, Dr Karunakara will stop in 64 cities, towns and villages, speak at ten medical colleges, and be a part of nine film screenings hosted by Alliance Française.
Dr Karunakara ended his three-year term as International President of Nobel Peace Prize winning Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières on October 1st. During his tenure, MSF confronted many challenges to delivering healthcare in conflict zones, natural disasters, and to populations with inadequate access to healthcare in over 70 countries around the world. In 2012 alone, MSF medical teams worldwide provided over eight million outpatient consultations, helped deliver around 1,85,000 babies, conducted nearly 80,000 surgical procedures, and vaccinated almost 7,00,000 people against measles.
Dr Karunakara is changing his pattern of life, for now, and going on a journey of personal discovery to better understand health in his homeland, while continuing his lifelong commitment to MSF by cycling and raising awareness about medical humanitarian action and raising money for the people in need of healthcare all over the world.
“I have been working in international health for 18 years from treating patients, advocating for life-saving medicines, and fighting to improve access and the quality of healthcare,” Dr Karunakara told a local news agency, CNS before starting his cycling journey.
“I feel I have a unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and explore with people what health means to them and how they experience it. I love to cycle. As a medical intern in India in 1988, I biked from Delhi to Leh and Srinagar to Delhi. I dreamt, one day, to ride from one end of India to the other. Twenty five years later, I can fulfill this dream and combine it with my other passion, which is to connect with people, start meaningful dialogues, and learn from each other,” he said.
MSF has been working in India since 1999 and has provided medical treatment to thousands of patients. Currently, MSF runs eight projects in India in seven states.