On one hand, children up to 12 years of age constitute 27 percent of India’s population and on the other hand, the nation is facing newer health challenges every day. For instance, 40 percent of the children are undernourished and 15 percent are overweight, reflecting the dual burden of nutrition. If this wasn’t enough, 20 percent children have refractory errors, of which nearly half go uncorrected, and one in every eight children have psycho-social disorders, mostly all of which go unaddressed.
While diverse health issues among children are a disturbing scenario, what makes this worse is the lack of consistent and comprehensive preventive health check-in behaviour amongst our population. The two main reasons are fragmented healthcare providers and paediatricians overlooking aspects of dental health, vision and nutrition.
Is there a solution to this problem? Until recently, no. But Bengaluru-based doctors Anand Lakshman and Anoop Radhakrishnan had a vision to ensure every child attains a state of positive health. They founded AddressHealth, India’s first one-stop-shop paediatric primary healthcare service providers.
A look into the Co-Founders’ lives
Anand, who is a doctor, went on to do his post-graduation in Public Health and Management from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He then spent nearly a decade on large-scale public health programmes under the aegis of the Government of India. What made him take the plunge into entrepreneurship was his experience of carrying out a $14.5-million project to introduce zinc and ORS (oral rehydration solution) in India’s public health system. The programme, which was launched in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in 2010, has benefited over 114 million children. However, this grant-based project made him contemplate on sustainability. He says,
Certain areas such as health and education are priority and for these, it is a necessity to create market-based, scalable solutions that are independent of grants.
Anoop is a doctor-entrepreneur who believes in setting up new generation healthcare ventures. A graduate from IIM-Lucknow, he started a consultancy called IndigoEdge, which is now a knowledge-backed investment bank. When Anoop and Anand decided to join hands, they knew that the only sector they wanted to pivot was primary healthcare.
We wanted to move from mainframe computing, having physical, specialised clinics, to cloud computing in healthcare to address the fragmented care model, which is so deeply entrenched in our society.
Pilot studies, initial models and learnings
Initially, we started addressing chronic diseases, such as asthma, type 1 diabetes, epilepsy and atopic dermatitis, in schools. Our idea was to not just treat episodic cases but make children look at the larger picture – delve deeper into the cause of these issues, and preventive care especially in terms of their nutrition intake etc. That’s when we realised that asthma is one of the leading causes attributing to absenteeism. So, we launched a programme called ‘Asthma Absent Program,’ wherein we trained teachers and school emergency staff on how to respond to asthma, and how to conduct environmental audits to understand if the school environment is safe. The programme reached 50,000 children in Bengaluru and at the end of it 50 schools were certified free from asthma.
The programme received overwhelming response from all the stakeholders. So, in 2011, AddressHealth launched a pilot school health programme in six schools having nearly 4, 000 children.
Why is School Health Program beneficial?
AddressHealth’s School Health Program is a holistic approach that checks the following in students: hearing, vision, anthropometry, head-to-toe examination, teeth and a complete medical examination. The results are available on cloud, making it easy and quick for anyone to access it. Additionally, the company has also designed a student curriculum that provides children of each class (Classes I to V) with age-appropriate content helping instil healthy behaviours, both mental and physical at a formative age. These programmes are imparted by certified healthcare professionals. Currently, the programme is operational in around 250 schools across the city and costs less than Rs 500 per student per annum.
Anand says, “Though the School Health Program was hugely successful, since it was cloud-based, many parents approached us asking us to set up physical entities”
So, Anand and Anoop set out to establish physical paediatric centres. In 2012, they inaugurated their first health clinic, bringing together diverse childcare specialists pertaining to dentistry, vision, nutrition and psychology under one roof. The duo opened three more centres in the next few years. But the next pressing question was of scale – how will AddressHealth penetrate the masses to make holistic and preventive healthcare a blanket solution?
Reducing set-up costs, breaking even yet reaching the masses – How?
We stumbled upon the idea of partnering with low and middle-income schools to set up medical infrastructure and assign doctors. The model will not just be beneficial for the school students but also the nearby societies.
So, during school hours, these fully-equipped, nurse-led health units take care of the school students’ healthcare needs free of cost. And after school hours, these clinics are open for the general public.
Impact and way forward
Today, there are 11 schools that have joined hands with AddressHealth and have medical units in-house. Last year, over one lakh children benefited solely from the School Health Program. Over the next few years, AddressHealth hopes to expand in at least two geographies by creating a network of 250 schools for the School Health Program and of these, they hope to be able to set up medical clinics in at least 10 percent of the schools.
Reflecting on his journey, Anand says,
We kept adapting to changing needs and were continually innovating in order to ensure market-acceptability, scale and sustainability. And in the entrepreneurship space, that’s only necessary.