Good healthcare is still an inaccessible privilege for millions of poor Indians. Only one percent of the country’s GDP is spent on improving healthcare infrastructure. But as is so often the case in India, individuals are surging ahead to fill the considerable gaps left by the government.
The large waiting room at the Narayana Hrudayalaya heart hospital in Bangalore is overflowing with patients. It’s the world’s busiest heart hospital and performs over 30 heart operations every day.
But what’s even more impressive about the hospital is the profile of its patients. Sixty percent of the patients at Narayana Hrudayalaya are from a poor background and pay almost nothing, or at least less than market price for the heart surgery they undergo.
That’s because of a successful business model: the 40 percent of the hospital’s patients who can afford to cover the cost of their treatment do so. This subsidises costs for poorer patients.
The brain behind this model is the hospital’s founder Dr Devi Shetty. A recipient of the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honours in the country, Dr Shetty is also one of the world’s most successful heart surgeons.
Long way ahead
“India needs to do 2.5 million heart surgeries a year. We are genetically three times more vulnerable to heart attacks than Europeans. But as of now, only about 90,000-100,000 heart surgeries are done,” Dr Shetty says. His ambition is to fill this gap and he thinks there’s still a long way to go.
You can listen to his views on this week’s South Asia Wired:
Also on the show is a success story from Kerala.
Living in pain
Thousands of patients in India experience unnecessary pain because they don’t have access to morphine, an inexpensive and effective pain reliever. This is because decades ago, India implemented strict regulations on the drug to try to prevent illegal drug use and addiction. But the situation has led to an unimaginable suffering for thousands of terminally ill patients in more than half the country. People suffering from cancer or other often terminal illnesses simply can't get the pain relief they desperately need.
But in recent years, Kerala has become to the first state to relax rules and start using morphine for patients who are dying. Despite having less than three per cent of the country's population, Kerala is home to two-thirds of the country's palliative care centres.
And the man who’s made it all work is Dr MR Rajagopal. He says his journey has been rewarding: “We got this very great kick, a high, from seeing people so visibly relieved. Somebody coming begging to be killed and in an hour sitting up and having a cup of tea. And this was really a powerful reward for all the difficulties that were there.”