Dr Jack Preger MBE (known as “Dr Jack”) helped more than half a million people during four decades spent providing free healthcare to those living on the streets and in the slums of Kolkata. He is widely regarded as the ‘grandfather’ of street medicine globally.
Born in Britain in 1930, he moved to newly-formed Bangladesh in 1972 after hearing an urgent radio appeal for doctors. Dr Jack worked in a refugee camp where people lived in appalling conditions. In time he established a 90-bed clinic and two farms where they could start rebuilding their lives. In 1979 he exposed an international child-smuggling ring and this led to him being deported from Bangladesh.
Dr Jack moved to Kolkata where vast numbers of people were living on the streets in abject poverty. Alone at first, and with very little money, he opened his medical bag and started treating patients on the pavement under a flyover. Over time, travellers passing through the city saw the vital work he was doing and stopped to offer a little money or to work at his side for a few weeks or months.
Despite numerous challenges, from crime bosses to hostile bureaucrats who even threw him in jail at one point, he refused to abandon his mission to serve those most in need whatever their caste or religion.By 1991 his work had received official recognition and he was able to establish Calcutta Rescue as a West Bengal-registered charity running street clinics and schools for the poor. Two years later the UK awarded him an MBE for his “continued perseverance and incredible selflessness”.