Stanford School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor told a distinguished group of visiting physicians, engineers, economists and businessmen from India that it was the perfect time to be collaborating with the world’s largest democracy.
As India’s economy heats up once again and biomedical research scales across the South Asian nation, Stanford intends to remain a key partner in this growth.
“India is on a journey to overcome its challenges,” Minor said. “Despite the substantial gaps in healthcare infrastructure and a shortfall of skilled healthcare workers, there’s enormous opportunity and enormously good work going on today – most of it being done by the people in this room.”
Minor was addressing a healthcare and policy panel during the two-day held on the Stanford campus on May 28-29. Reigniting India’s Growth: Perspectives from Business, Engineering, Medicine and Economics was sponsored by the Stanford Center for International Development, the Graduate School of Business, the schools of Engineering and Medicine, as well as the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research.
“I’m really eager to explore ways that we can deepen the collaboration and interactions between Stanford and India,” Minor said. “As I’m sure everyone here is aware, India is the world’s most populous democracy, one of the fastest growing major economies and a rising power with growing international influence – led by a prime minister who has great ambitions for the country.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said his core mission is the revival of the Indian economy – once a powerhouse destined to rival that of China. Since taking office last year, when economic growth stood at 5 percent, the IMF forecasts India’s economy will grow to 7.5 percent by the end of this year.
Stanford has many partnerships with India, such as the Stanford-India Biodesign project to train the next generation of medical technology innovators in India. In 2007, Stanford joined with the nonprofit GVK Emergency Management Research Institute, based in Hyderabad, India, to train the country’s first corps of paramedics.
Minor noted that the Stanford-India Biodesign program has led to the founding of 37 biotech companies. “And the technologies that they have invented have been used in the care of over 300,000 patients – and that’s only the beginning,” he said.
Stanford physicians developed an educational curriculum and have trained thousands of paramedics and emergency instructors in India. EMRI says that since the training program began, more than 150,000 healthcare professions have been trained at its training center.
“These paramedics instructors have played a crucial role in the development of emergency medicine in India,” he said. “It’s been a true collaboration with a curriculum developed here in the U.S. and then standardized and implemented in a way that’s meaningful for people in India.”
Grant Miller, an associate professor at the School of Medicine and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, is the director of the Stanford Center for International Development, which organized and co-hosted the India conference.
“This year’s India Conference was new for SCID in that it was a cross-campus collaboration, partnering us with the business school and schools of medicine and engineering,” said Miller, also a core faculty member at CHP/PCOR.
“We feel that there is great potential for more campus-wide activity focused on India, enabling Stanford to develop new partnerships in India as well as across parts of our own university.”
Miller also launched the Stanford India Health Policy Initiative with another CHP/PCOR researcher, Nomita Divi. The initiative, connected with FSI’s International Policy Implementation Lab, joins Stanford with Indian health policymakers and professionals to design collaborative projects in India.
Last year the SIHPI fellows spent the summer investigating the factors that motivate formal and informal healthcare providers. This summer, three Stanford undergrads and a medical student will do fieldwork on the outskirts of Mumbai for seven weeks to document the impact of existing pharmaceutical networks on formal and informal provider practices.
“Health improvement is of course a critical objective of broad-based social and economic development, and we are very excited to see Stanford’s potential to make interdisciplinary contributions to health improvement in India,” Miller said on the sidelines of the India conference.
The conference featured four panel sessions in which perspectives from economics, business, engineering and medical sectors were debated. Discussions focused on how best to combine these to ensure sustained high growth in the Indian economy.
Each session featured a distinguished panel of speakers, and was followed by a lengthy floor discussion. Among the speakers were Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys, one of India’s most successful IT services companies; Stanford President John Hennessy; Montek Ahluwalia, former deputy chairman of India’s Planning Commission, and Mr. K. Ram Shriram, managing partner at the venture capital firm, Sherpalo Ventures.
Ashok Alexander, former founding country director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India, said too many India observers tout the incredible growth of its economy and highly educated and skilled technology innovators. Yet they ignore the majority of the country’s 1.2 billion people still lack adequate public healthcare and that 70 percent of medical spending comes out of pocket.
“We cannot ignite India nor can we sustain India unless we think about the ways to fix public health problems,” Alexander said. “The solution to most public health problems in India are absurdly simple; it’s all about scaling up of well-known solutions.”
Only 1.3 percent of India’s GDP was devoted to public health in 2014, according to the World Bank. That is one of the world’s lowest rates. The risk of dying during childbirth is one in 43, whereas the rate in developed countries is one in 4,000.
“While India is making such great strides in its energy and business sectors, how come there is no great debate on public health?” he asked.
Amit Sengupta, a senior biomedical consultant at Tata Memorial Center and adjunct professor at ITT/AIIMS in New Delhi, told the medical panel that modern medicine is still not the first preference in rural Indian and the urban slums.
“Health is not only a biomedical issue, but also sociocultural issue,” he said. “Fifty percent of the world’s tribal population lives in India; it’s a rich heritage but they eschew Western medicine.”
Sengupta said rural India is plagued by physical and psychological stress, alcoholism and domestic violence. Meanwhile, he said, the government continues to cut the healthcare budget – a cycle that always leads back to poverty.
And, he said, remember Gandhi’s memorable saying: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”