The ‘pavement doctor’ who helps India’s poor

Jack Preger has been awarded the Philanthropist of the Year prize at this year's Asian Awards for his work among Calcutta's poor


Jack Preger, the 86-year-old affectionately known as the “Pavement Doctor of Kolkata”, has been providing free medical care for people living in abject poverty in West Bengal, one of India’s poorest states, for the last 38 years.

Last week he was given the Philanthropist of the Year prize at the Asian Awards, only the second non-Asian to receive such an accolade — after Mother Teresa.

Collecting his award, Dr Preger expressed his gratitude that a “nice yiddishe boy from Manchester” had been deemed fit to receive such an honour.

“This is an incredible honour for me, and it’s fairly overwhelming. The fact that I’m not Asian makes it even more impressive,” he said.

Born in Hightown, Cheetham Hill, in 1930 and raised in nearby Crumpsall, Dr Preger attended yeshivah as a young man — and even considered becoming a rabbi — before going to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he received a degree in economics and political science.

Retreating to south-west Wales, Dr Preger was working on a farm when, while driving his tractor, he heard a “mysterious voice” telling him to become a doctor.

He began studying medicine at the age of 35.

On hearing a radio appeal, he travelled to what was then the the new country of Bangladesh, where he established a 90-bed clinic for war refugees, and two farms on which they lived and worked.

After being deported in 1979 for exposing a child-smuggling ring, Dr Preger travelled to Kolkata, where he began providing free medical care to those living on the streets. Alone at first, with only a small amount of money, he started treating patients under a flyover.

He eventually established Calcutta Rescue, which has helped an estimated 500,000 people over almost four decades.

Working primarily out of three makeshift clinics and two mobile clinics, Calcutta Rescue takes medical care deep into the city’s slums, where there is the highest level of need.

Plugging the holes in services provided by the government and other organisations, it cares for people with the hardest conditions to treat, such as tuberculosis and HIV, as well as providing long-term care for those with leprosy.

West Bengal, the state in which Kolkata is located, is one of the most under-developed in India.

An estimated 20 per cent of people live below the poverty line, with many unable to receive even basic healthcare.

Despite having lost part of his sight and suffering from Meniere’s Disease, an inner-ear disorder, Dr Preger intends to continue his work in Kolkata, where he spends nine months of the year.

Publicity-shy Dr Preger also told the JC he wishes to help Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, citing the same spiritual impulse which drives his work in India.

“As a Jew”, he said, “I feel involved in what Israel does to these people.

“I stayed a number of times in East Jerusalem and travelled in the West Bank.

The discriminatory regulations, the attacks by settlers I was told of when in the West Bank, the displacement of Bedouin from their grazing grounds and many other practices made me ashamed as an old member of Hashomer Hatzair [the Socialist-Zionist youth movement]”.

Calcutta Rescue also runs a mother-and-baby unit and supports people with diabetes, heart conditions and a range of learning disabilities. It was named joint-best medium-sized non-governmental organisation in India in 2009.

Donations to Calcutta Rescue can me made through its website,

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