Navin Shah is a slightly built man who runs 15 miles every weekend, starting always at 8am, and always the same route, a gravelly trail along the Potomac River.
It’s that same discipline that helped a boy from a Sholapur family of modest means go through medical college, and end up as a highly successful doctor in the United States.
And it is the same discipline that keeps him doggedly in pursuit of a desire to give something back to his land of birth, despite baffling, but continued indifference.
Shah has met every Indian Prime Minister since, and including, Indira Gandhi, and some of them multiple times such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee — and he has stories on each meeting.
Now, he hopes to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he is here later this month. In a letter seeking an appointment, Shah has detailed his plan for the Prime Minister
Shah’s pitch has been the same: there are many Indian American doctors willing to offer their expertise to help India tackle some of its hardest health challenges.
And at no cost. Use them. It’s a difficult offer to ignore. So he has never been turned away, but hasn’t met with much success either; in fact, very little.
Shah could have just walked away, and stuck to his life of a successful urologist, proud father and an indulgent grandfather. But he hasn’t, not yet and, remarkably, without any rancour.
“If you don’t try, you can’t make a difference,” Shah said in an interview.
So he persisted, and put in a large amount of his own money to set up a website — APXA: American Professional eXchange Association — to push ahead with his vision.
Through the website, Indian American doctors can offer their expertise, travel to India at their own expense and train or advise a medical facility that seeks it. On the US side, the exchange programme offers to host visiting Indian doctors for free, and take care of their training or reconditioning at the best of hospitals, Shah would like to focus this program on two areas that he sees are India’s greatest health challenges — trauma care and infectious diseases, that claim thousands of lives every year.
“There are 68,0000 practicing US physicians of Indian origin and some of them would like to volunteer their expertise and services in India,” Shah said in his letter to Modi.
He believes trauma deaths in India can be brought down — from a 1,000 a day — through additional centres and training. He believes even a small difference is worth the effort.
About infections diseases, Dr Shah wrote in his letter to PM Modi, India has about 50 million such patients, and it is responsible for 40% of deaths every year.
Shah has even tried the private sector route.