The story of some socially relevant medical institutions, passionately engaged in offering holistic, world class and affordable healthcare infrastructure is doing the rounds now – but so is the skepticism around their social models!
Like social work, healthcare has often been described as a mission, not a trade. However, when one looks around, horror stories abound! Ironically, the most disturbing aspect of India’s development over the past two [post liberalization] decades has been the rise in inequality in all indicators of development and well-being – the pathetic state of health and nutrition being a prime example! Tragically, while the ‘corporate’ private sector in healthcare has boomed and India is being touted and sold successfully as a hot “medical tourism destination,” the access of the common man to basic healthcare facilities has become increasingly more difficult. Further, the trials and tribulations of hassled patients, along with their endless stories of wrong diagnosis, zillion tests and eye-popping bills hardly warrants repetition. In this dismal space, there are some glimmers of hope, of entrepreneurs who have set up healthcare facilities to reach those who have, till date, been deemed unreachable – the havenots!

A number of such initiatives have been started in India. Aravind Eye Care Centre is one of the most well known, made popular particularly by its prominent mention in the book on Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by late Prof. C. K. Prahalad.

Of the next lot, Shramjeevi Hospital in Kolkata is a more recent example and one that has started earning its place in the sun. The hospital was also covered in our sister magazine The Sunday Indian. Shramjeevi was set up by former workers of the sick Indo-Japan Steel Company. It all started when these workers set up a free weekly medical check up for the poor. The exercise was an attempt to repay in kind the people, who had earlier helped them through the cycle of closure and reopening of the steel plant. With an initial capital of just Rs.40,000, they made beds, operation tables, trolleys, et al, using steel scrap. They used automobile headlights as OT lights and kept them lit with AC/DC and battery systems. In every aspect of their operations, the concept of frugality took up a whole new meaning. The hospital is based completely on donations, yet still focused exclusively on the underprivileged. The hospital provides heart care surgeries at just Rs.25,000, compared to Rs.1,00,000 at most other hospitals.

On the religious front, the Sathya Sai hospitals in South India (Puttapurthi, Whitefield, Bangalore) also offer highly subsidised yet world class healthcare services to all the needy. This hospital again is run by donations, which rich and devout donors willingly provide. “Despite the social aspect, the hospital has managed to rope in foreign and Indian doctors who voluntarily provide their services free of cost,” says A. Sundari, a hospital volunteer.


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