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Medicine beyond borders

Doctors from India are increasing their footprints in Africa and the Caribbean with high-visibility hospitals and clinics.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 30, 2014 12:42 IST
Sanchita Sharma

President Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia (second from right) with Health Minister Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu (third from right) at the OIA India Eye Care Centre in Addis Ababa.(Photo:Aida Muluneh)

On Friday last week, the biggest new story in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was the country’s President Mulatu Teshome inaugurating an eye hospital.

What makes the news relevant for India is that the OIA India Eye Care Centre is run by ophthalmologists from India trained at Sankara Nethralaya, India’s best known not-for-profit eye hospital in Chennai.

A public-private partnership between the Ethiopian government and Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (OIA), the hospital already gets more than 100 patients a day, with the walk-ins divided between people needing prescription glasses and those needing surgery for glaucoma and cataract.

“Super tertiary health centres such as this one not just bring quality care to Ethiopia but will also train Ethiopian doctors,” said Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu, health minister of Ethiopia, at the launch. “And with the user-fee based on the principle of a sliding scale, the haves will pay more, those who can’t, won’t,” he added.

The hospital’s mandate is to have 20 % treatment free of cost, 50% at concessional rates and the rest on full charge.

Since its soft launch in September, the 15-bedded hospital – almost all eye surgeries are day procedures that do not require hospital stay -- is already on its way to becoming a medical tourist hub for East Africa.

Surgery was the last thing in the mind of Madagascar-resident Constance Razafarlson, 72, when she went to Ethiopia for a holiday in January this year.

Cataract was beginning to make her vision hazy, but a chance look at the spanking new OIA India’s Eye Care Centre building at the government-run Zewditu Memorial Hospital made consider getting her cataract surgery done on vacation.

Razafarlson was convinced when she heard the doctors were from India and the clinic had high-tech machines that made it possible for her to get her cataract – clouded lens of the eye – replaced through a bladeless-stitchlessless procedure.

“My daughter did an online search on the procedure and we visited the centre. We decided to go ahead because we have nothing close to these facilities at home,” she said. Two follow-ups later, Razafarlson was on a flight back home to Madagascar.

Out of India

Africa and the Caribbean are fast emerging as medicine hubs for healthcare services from India. Dr Naresh Trehan’s Medanta AfriCare is currently running a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya and has plans to expand its Africa footprint with hospitals in Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

Dr Naresh Trehan’s Medanta AfriCare runs in Nairobi, Kenya.(Photo:Aida Muluneh)

“Medically, I believe Africa is where India was 20 years ago and India can help countries shorten the learning curve to deliver the best possible healthcare at affordable prices,” said Dr Trehan, who is also the chairman of Medanta -- The Medicity, speaking to HT from Uzbekistan. “India has developed modalities to provide quality services at minimal costs to millions, and what worked for India, will work in other developing countries.”

“When it comes to medicine learning and skill, Indians are far ahead than people from any other part of the world,” he said. “I believe we can build bridges of cooperation through medicine and science by helping countries develop health infrastructure,” added Dr Trehan.

Training module

A large part of the venture will also involve training and building local healthcare infrastructure so that operations become self-sustaining in a few years.

Narayana Health’s US $75 million 140-bedded Health City in Cayman Islands made headlines worldwide when it opened its doors to patients on March 10.

Founder and cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty is already on to his next project – opening a medical college in Cayman Islands by next year.

“The medical college in Cayman Islands will be operational in 2015/16, most probably next year. Top universities in the US and EU are keen to participate, but we plan to have most of the faculty from India,” Dr Shetty told HT. While students will be from the Caribbean and the US, the faculty will be from India.

The medical university will also have schools for nursing and paramedical services. Over the next 12 years, Health City Cayman Islands plans to expand to 2,000 beds and an assisted-living facility spread over 50 acres of land at a cost of approximately US $2 billion.

No stopping now

OIA has plans to use its public-private partnership model in Ethiopia to build tertiary-care hospitals in other countries in East Africa.

Hi-tech equipment and skilled doctors have made OIA India Eye Care Centre the talk of Addis Ababa (Photo:Aida Muluneh)

The eye hospital at Addis Ababa will increase capacity in phases to treat 100,000 patients and perform 10,000 sight-restoring surgeries within three years.

“The next step will be to introduce mobile clinics to reach people in remote areas and train ophthalmologists from medical colleges in the newest surgical techniques,” said Dr Rashmin Gandhi, lead ophthalmologist, OIA India Eye Care Centre. “Almost 80% blindness is preventable, and we plan to prevent it.”

“Just as Indians dominated the software industry a decade ago, health professionals from India will dominate medicine in this decade. All countries are in the verge of collapse because of growing costs of healthcare. They need us, we have the expertise to provide quality services at low costs,” said Narayana Health’s Dr Shetty.