(Suruchi Kapur Gomes, May 1) It was 1964, and a 23-year-old impressionable girl left the cocoon of her sheltered life straddled with a medical degree from Nagpur and a stethoscope in hand. She was the first Indian woman doctor in the UAE, who today has an unequivocal legacy and healthcare empire. Mama Zulekha, a gynecologist, focused on affordable healthcare with a compassion that has enriched many lives, least of all, the 15,000-20,000 babies she has delivered. “At that time, the Trucial States (a collection of sheikhdoms in West Asia) were just sand as far as the eye could see. The British army was running the show, there I started my journey of helping people. People received me with open arms.
In those days, a BP apparatus and stethoscope were her only equipment. “Access was remote, and we traveled through deserts in a Range Rover, most deliveries managed at home,” says Dr Daud.
Creating her own identity in Kuwait, then Dubai and Sharjah, she juggled many roles – a gynecologist, general physician, even a vet – while expecting her first child. Ask her how she balanced being a mother and a doctor, pat comes the reply: “I had the best children, they were wonderful.”
Tackling responsibilities with purpose and clarity, her husband Dr Iqbal Daud, an ophthalmologist at Ras Al Khaimah joined her in Kuwait at the American Kuwait Mission Hospital. “I became a household name. And later started practicing in Sharjah. What we earnestly seek, comes with time, you have to keep doing the work,” says the veteran who is an active and inspired 84-year-old.
Philanthropy connected her back to her roots in Nagpur, where she supports a school, a college and a vocational centre. Born into a family of a construction worker, she says:
“My parents were my greatest strength. They guided me to stay on course, and be humble,” says the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award winner. Another cherished memory was when Dr Daud received a letter of thanks and appreciation from Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Her work ethic comes across even on a zoom call as she brandishes a spontaneity of purpose, seeking an NGO to help her Nagpur school.
“When we are serving a purpose and doing the best for the community, that is important. Wealth creation is just a concurrent process. Our upbringing taught us to ‘give.’ My support for educating girl-child education and the underprivileged in Nagpur is most important. It is a project initiated by my mother, and I am trying to realize her dream of seeing every girl educated. Those girls have sad lives. I want to change that, help them get a good education, not just learning Urdu, or the Quran, but skills for employment. When we take good care of the small things in life, the big things take care of themselves,” she says of her legacy. Working towards providing clean drinking water in Nagpur, she is vocal and clearly ahead of her times, “Women are stronger, earnest and more committed.”
In the throes of Covid 19, her hospitals offer mental wellness counseling sessions, webinars on safety, recovery, and free second opinions. Her son Adil Daud, is HS clinical professor, department of medicine, UCSF and his wife Pamela Munster is program leader Experimental Therapeutics UCSF, and ambassadors for the Zulekha Cancer charity. Dr Daud reveals, “For more than 10 years, we give free mammograms, PAP tests and FOBT tests to the masses, and over 15,000 people have taken these tests to date. We also offer free consultation.”
Her daughter Zanubia helms the healthcare empire. “Throughout my life, I have had to sacrifice a lot, but that has only helped me grow and learn as an individual. Every human life is important to me,” she concludes.