Can you imagine a more difficult challenge than to find a way to provide free health-care in a nation with the second-largest population in the world, where over 40 percent of the people live below the poverty level and there is no government-funded welfare system or safety net?
At India's Narayana Hrudayalaya, meaning "Temple of the Heart," one of the world's top cardiac surgeons, Dr. Devi Shetty, determined to make a difference, making a profit and offering free medical care go hand-in-hand.
"The essence of life is helping people," Shetty says. "We are in a profession where people come, [and] they are not coming to buy a car or a house or a new suit. They are coming here to save their life. And when they come and tell us that they have no money we know if we refuse they are going to die. So if a hospital is not able to help people who come to its doorstep, we believe they should not be doing that job."
How does he do it?
"We decided to adopt all the business principles of Walmart or Henry Ford - the one thing in common is the economy of scale," Shetty explains.
At the Narayana, approximately 40 per cent of patients pay a reasonable price for their treatment, a small percentage - those who "want the frills of executive rooms" - pay a premium, a majority pays less than the market rate and 10 to 20 per cent pay virtually nothing. For the latter category, the hospital's charitable wing raises money to help compensate for the material costs of their treatment.
In any other hospital, those who could not afford to pay their medical bills would simply be sent away until they came up with the cash, but at the Narayana the hospital's charity wing helps them to find the money.
While the charismatic Shetty and his ideals are a draw card, it is the fact that he can offer the surgery cheaper than anyone else that is the main attraction.
In the first episode of Indian Hospital, we follow the story of Akbar and Qurr - a couple who have gone from one state hospital to another trying to save the life of their nine-month-old first-born child, Hatersham.
There will be five more episodes of "Indian Hospital" on Al Jazeera, see the schedule with dates and show times listed here.
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