This article was contributed by Haas student Helen Cai and Haas intern Micah Sanders.
It is Jan. 4, 2014, Day Two of the UGBA193i Travel Study course. The day started off bright and early: Everyone met in the lobby and piled into the bus at 5:30 a.m., ready for the 4-hour drive ahead to the Aragonda Village in the Chittoor District. Professor Solomon Darwin had arranged a visit for the students to the village on the outskirts of Bangalore to observe the work of Apollo Hospitals, one of the largest health care groups in Asia, in rural India. They drove across state borders and saw beautiful sights such as the Indian sunrise, monkeys climbing on trees, and twin mountains in the countryside. Accompanying the Haas group today were senior managers of Apollo Hospital, as well as the son of Apollo Hospital’s CEO, Dr. Umapathy.
Around 10:00 a.m. Professor Darwin and the students were greeted by the president of the village. She has been in office for the past six months, winning her election with over two-thirds of the popular vote, and is also actively involved in providing water for the entire town. The technology of the water purification system has greatly improved since she was elected; it is now able to process 1,000 liters of water per hour. After seeing the facilities for water provision, the group of students arrived at the chairman of Apollo Hospital’s guesthouse. They were able to see the contrast between different standards of living both within the village and compared this to their own Western lifestyles.
They first visited AIVN, the elementary school funded by the chairman of Apollo Hospitals, Dr. Reddy. The Haas group was showered with kind notes, flowers, and friendly waves from the students at the school, who ranged from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade. The kids were so adorable; no one could resist smiling and introducing themselves. Seeing the pristine setting as well as the quality of education really impressed the Haas students and showed the extent of the chairman’s commitment to education as a solution to various rural community problems. The visit concluded in a flag-raising ceremony and the Indian national anthem.
Next, the students traveled a short distance to the local Apollo Hospital clinic, which provides free operations and examinations that are worth between 3000-5000 Rupees. The students saw the long lines of people waiting for care, demonstrating the importance of the hospital in village life. They participated in a video-conference with Dr. Reddy, who spoke passionately about working for a purpose you find enjoyable—he himself was a cardiologist before heading Apollo Hospitals and continues to work every day to create meaningful change.
Students saw open innovation in action when they observed a real-time telemedicine conference with an Apollo Hospital doctor and 25-year-old military man who was experiencing arthritis and swelling in his fingers and feet. He was diagnosed with chikungunya fever and prescribed a typical solution: steroid injection. The entire exchange took place with a nurse practitioner explaining the patient’s case and statistics to the doctor, who was then able to provide his counsel, to be administered by the nurse, within a 15-30 minute time period. The doctor explained how this cost-effective nature of telemedicine allowed for more frequent appointments with patients and had all but replaced regular patient care in rural areas. Patients wanted in-person care, but were usually convinced by being able to see the doctor on a more regular basis. During the entire process, students were joined by the president of the village and a doctor and administrator of the hospital.
One main point of telemedicine that was emphasized is that the doctor only needs a nurse on the other side of the camera to administer any treatments. Apollo Hospitals has set up a school of nursing in Aragonda as well, which provides training and is currently compiling a database of medical records for the 7000+ villagers by going directly to their homes and educating them.
The Haas group boarded the bus for the long ride back with a greater understanding of the medical challenges many Indians face.