The Teddy Bear Doctor bringing more than just comfort to KL’s underclasses

Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugam says the Teddy Mobile Clinic treats everyone.

KUALA LUMPUR: It is just after 9pm but Uncle Amran is already in the queue. The 67-year-old stands out in his bright shirt, white trousers and stained flat cap. He is a familiar sight on the streets, carrying with him his few worldly possessions.

Like the others in the queue tonight, Amran is here to see someone very important to him. There’s a doctor on the street, and his name is Madhusudhan Shanmugam.

Every Wednesday, Madhusudhan takes to the streets of Kuala Lumpur with his merry band of doctors, pharmacists and volunteers to treat the city’s underprivileged, migrants and homeless, like Amran.

Known as the Teddy Bear Doctor, Madhusudhan looks every bit as cuddly as a giant teddy bear and has a smile warm enough to make his patients feel at ease.

He has been running his Teddy Mobile Clinic since 2015, conducting health checks and prescribing and dispensing medicine to around 50 people per night.

Teddy Mobile Clinic doctors attend to patients.

And while it is an open-air mobile clinic with no walls, consisting only of foldable tables and chairs, Madhusudhan and his team treat it like a proper clinic.

Tonight’s patients go through a quick registration process before having their temperature, blood sugar level and blood pressure taken. They then see a volunteer doctor before being prescribed medicine and having their medical records updated.

“Most of our patients are homeless, but we also have regulars from the lower income groups and migrant workers. We treat anyone who comes to us,” Madhusudhan told FMT.

“The main health problems our patients face are skin problems, diabetes and high blood pressure because of the stress of living on the streets.”

Some, he said, were ticking health time-bombs with blood pressure readings of over 200. Others who show symptoms of tuberculosis are taken to the hospital by volunteers.

The Teddy Mobile Clinic van is prone to breaking down.

Madhusudhan, who also runs a normal clinic in Cheras, said when he started the Teddy Mobile Clinic, he had to use medication from his own centre. However, people are now donating to the cause.

Still, running the Teddy Bear Clinic at Jalan Hang Lekiu and the homeless shelter in Jalan Pahang, as well as frequent clinics in Orang Asli villages, costs at least RM4,000 a month.

But for the likes of Uncle Amran, who has been homeless for four decades and suffers from high blood pressure, the Teddy Bear Clinic is priceless.

“Before the Teddy Bear Clinic started, I would have to walk to a hospital,” he said, adding that he hoped more young people would follow in Madhusudhan’s path.

He also said he believes the authorities could do more to share the burden of caring for the underprivileged with the NGOs.

A Bangladeshi cook who only wanted to be known as Masum said the Teddy Bear Clinic had helped him save a lot of money over the past seven months since he found out about it from a friend.

The Teddy Mobile Clinic crew pose for a picture after treating the homeless.

“I have high blood pressure, so I come here for a check-up and to get medicine. At a regular clinic that would cost around RM50 per visit,” he said. “Since I earn only RM1,400, I must limit my trips to the clinic because I have to send money home to my family. I’m really thankful for this service.”

But for Madhusudhan, who has been actively involved in charity work since his school days, his current good work isn’t enough – he wants to serve more people.

To do this, he needs a new van because the current Teddy Mobile Clinic van is prone to breaking down, and can only transport the basics for the service. He is working with RHB Bank to raise the funds to buy a fully equipped first-aid van.

Another challenge he faces is getting enough doctors for his service. “Many doctors want to volunteer, but they also have their work commitments. On average, we have around three doctors a week, but with more we’ll be able to help more people.”

He also needs to raise funds for medication to dispense. The good news is that RHB has opened a Tabung Teddy so that anyone who wishes to contribute to the cause can easily do so.

“We welcome anyone who wishes to volunteer for the clinic or help us financially,” says the Teddy Bear Doctor. “And if you know someone who needs medical care and cannot afford it, you can bring them to us. We never turn anyone away.”