Asian Footsteps in Africa

CAMBRIDGE – Don’t look now, but capitalism – maligned in these bailout-ridden recessionary days – is reshaping Africa inexorably. What is different today is that it is emanating from China and India, rather than from the conventional bastions of capitalist prowess.

Devi Shetty, a celebrated cardiac surgeon in Bangalore, brings health relief to India’s masses through his Narayana group of hospitals. Some years ago, I witnessed his early experiments with rural telemedicine, especially in the Indian states of Karnataka and West Bengal. In my visit last month, the wall was adorned by a large map of Karnataka festooned with colored pins, to indicate that he now served most district capitals in the remotest parts of the state. Moreover, a world map showed outreach to rural areas of East Africa and Southeast Asia, and the room has been upgraded to reflect a still-expanding global reach.

All this comes from carefully acquired experience – technical and sociological – with delivering expert medical advice through teleconference facilities, aided by satellite links. Shetty’s team has successfully participated in telemedicine consultations – multi-specialty, non-stop availability, and supplemented by continuing education – with hospitals in 14 African countries. This effort is part of then Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s ambitious pan-African e-Network project to link all 53 African capitals to tertiary care facilities across India.

Shetty is a healer, first and foremost. But he is also an entrepreneur, and this is the latest in his many efforts to create successful, low-cost, but cutting-edge medical ecosystems in tough locations worldwide. He aspires audaciously to what he calls the universal Walmartization of healthcare – a reshaping of medical care that the world’s indigent need, and in Africa more than most other locations.