Connecting the Poor With World Class Healthcare

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

C.K. Prahalad, author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid; Eradicating Poverty through Profit, has long championed the notion that business, rather than government hand-outs, represents the most effective solution to poverty.

At the recent TiE Entrepreneurship Summit in New Delhi, Devi Prasad Shetty, chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya, a pediatric heart hospital in Bangalore, offered an example of Prahalad’s principles at work in health care. The hospital operates a low-cost health insurance programme for farmers in the southern state of Karnataka. Each farmer contributes Rs5 a month to the programme, while the government contributes another Rs2.50 a month per farmer. The premiums from this pool of beneficiaries have permitted Narayana Hrudayalaya to operate upon 25,000 farmers and to offer free medical consultation to 85,000 more.

“This year, we have increased the monthly contribution by farmers to Rs10 a month, but we still hope to cover 13 million individuals using the world?s largest telemedicine network to deliver critical health services to rural areas,” Shetty says.

The network permits Narayana Hrudayalaya to provide cardiac services to villages in India?s hinterland that have few doctors and little medical coverage.

“We have started placing ECG (electrocardiograph) machines in general practitioners? clinics, where (cardiac) tests can be administered. The reports are sent to us over custom-built software,” Shetty says. Narayana Hrudayalaya gets the results over phone lines, allowing cardiologists at the hospital to diagnose the problem and prescribe treatment. As a result, Shetty says, the hospital was able to deliver “world-class quality service to the doorstep of rural Indians.”

Narayana Hrudayalaya saw an opportunity in the genetic proclivity of Indians to heart attacks?three times the European average. By adopting a so-called “portfolio approach”, the hospital was able to fund the delivery of health services that individual farmers could not afford.

Shetty says the hospital is now using its clinics to partner with retailers who want to set up village outlets. Retailers have the opportunity to sell their products taking advantage of the health facility?s position in the community.

“The retailers will share profits with us, which will allow us to make our free clinics self-reliant,” says Shetty.

Source: LiveMint (link opens in a new window)