The story of Rural Health Care begins with one man’s courageous battle against a life-threatening disease. Arun Nevatia was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 10. He spent most of his childhood undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and battling complications ranging from diabetes to cardiomyopathy. Unwilling to let his physical condition define him, Arun rose above his ailments, earned a college degree, married, and found a secure job in housing construction. Still, despite his strength and incredible success in dealing with his illness, Arun was unsatisfied.
Unlike that of his early life, the discomfort that Arun felt after graduating college did not stem from his recurring illness. Instead, it was the realization that the only reason he was able to rise above his ailments was that he was able to afford the treatment offered to him; meanwhile, throughout the country, millions of his fellow Indians were struggling to get access to even basic healthcare. With this realization, Arun quit his job to set up a primary healthcare center in Mayapur in the Nadia District of West Bengal. Within the first month, 8,000 patients had visited the center. With support from Shreyas Nevatia and Rishabh Jain, the center was converted into public trust under the name Rural Health Care Foundation.
In a recent conversation with Rishabh, Lead Volunteer of Rural Health Care Foundation, Rishabh explained the founding philosophy behind the NGO. “In India, healthcare has become an industry – a source of profit for many people. That needs to change,” he explained. “Initially, the rich businessmen used to treat healthcare as a charity work. Now they try to maximize their profit. The patients believe that their doctors are God in human form. We need to remember our duty to the underprivileged. Health care needs to return back to its core purpose – helping the people.”
Under this philosophy, Rural Health Care Foundation currently operates 5 low cost primary healthcare centers throughout West Bengal, including one at Mayapur, and one in Kolkata. Over 6 lakh patients have visited the center since 2007 and received high quality consultation and treatment.
The pricing structure for Rural Health Care services has evolved along with the business model, adapting to patient needs in conformity with what was required to scale. Initially, patients would receive free care and free medicine. However, it was soon realized that many patients would receive their free medicine, leave the center and sell the medicine outside the center’s walls. In order to deter abuse while simultaneously developing a more sustainable business model, Rural Health Care began charging a small fee for their services. At their current price point, Rs 40 payment will afford a patient an initial checkup, a follow-up checkup within 7 days of the initial checkup, as well as 7 days worth of medicine.At this price point, roughly half of the payment goes toward the cost of medicine, and the remaining fifty percent helps cover administrative costs. With a break even point of about 5,000 patients per month per center, the Mayapur clinic has now become totally self-sustainable.
Despite its impressive numbers and tangible impact, Rural Health Care Foundation’s success did not come without struggle. “There have been several challenges in our way,” said Rishabh. “First and foremost, we had to win the trust of the local residents. The rural people have a general mistrust about the motives of urban folk, and with good reasons. We then had to deal with opposition from the local quacks and doctors who were fleecing the patients, as we were a threat to their ill gotten gains. Then came the issue of funding. Rural Health Care is a very low-glamour area of work. This becomes a big problem because donations [and volunteers] are much easier to obtain when you promise a bit of glamour… So basically, our biggest challenge has been to obtain the support of all the stakeholders.”
After a long and courageous battle with cancer, Arun Nevatia passed away earlier this year on the 22nd of June. His goal of expanding affordable primary healthcare throughout West Bengal, however, is being carried forward by Rural Health Care Foundation and those who he inspired along the way. With his deep gratitude for life and unbending desire to give back for all he had been given, Arun’s legacy will continue to inspire those who knew him, as well as those who didn’t, to help ensure the right to a healthy life to those less able to enjoy it due to socioeconomic restraints.
“I am myself a novice entrepreneur,” said Rishabh, “but the most important thing that I have learned when it comes to entrepreneurship is that you need to stick it out – through all the highs and lows. Through persistence and dedication, you can overcome your biggest roadblocks and make your venture succeed.”
Rural Health Care Foundation has been awarded the AmeriCares India Certificate of Merit, as well as the ‘Social Enterprise Of The Year Award’ at the 3rd Annual India Leadership Conclave & Indian Affairs Business Leadership Awards 2012. Rishabh Jain was awarded the National Youth Award for Social Service, 2012, by the Government of India for his work with Rural Healthcare Foundation.