‘Healthcare access and equity have suffered hugely over the last many decades’

Subroto Bagchi says the underbelly of the healthcare system was starkly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic

Subroto Bagchi says the underbelly of the healthcare system was starkly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic

Inadequate healthcare infrastructure and investment have come at a high cost with access equity suffering over many decades. The need to address this gap along with developing cross-disciplinary research, training, innovation and capacity building are some of the reasons why Mindtree co-founders and philanthropist couples Subroto Bagchi and his wife, Susmita, and Radha and NS Parthasarathy collectively donated ₹425 crore to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). In an interview, Mr. Bagchi talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed his views about the term ‘lifetime’. The funds will be used to set up a postgraduate medical college and an 800-bed multispeciality hospital. Edited excerpts:

Why do you believe healthcare in India requires a lot of resources and attention?

For a nation of 1.3 billion people, we are woefully inadequate in terms of healthcare infrastructure and investment. We do not have enough doctors, nurses, paramedics, and hospital beds. Access and equity have suffered hugely over the last many decades. The underbelly of the healthcare system was starkly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we run the risk of collective amnesia as we come out of it. If we look at developed nations, great things in medical research and healthcare happened because private individuals came forward. That is how Sloan Kettering [the oldest and largest cancer centre in New York] what built. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Oxford flourished because of commitment from non-governmental and non-institutional actors of change.

Giving is not so easy, it’s a special call…

Long back, Susmita and I chose to focus on healthcare due to personal reasons. Her mother battled cancer and later dementia. My mother was blind, and my father had mental health issues. Through deeply personal experiences, deeply personal choices present themselves. That is how we decided to work on mental health, vision, cancer, and aging. We decided to set up a large cancer hospital and a palliative care center in Odisha. They will be one of the largest cancer cure and care facilities in the country.

Bengaluru is already the healthcare capital of India. Why do you think the city requires another healthcare and training facility?

Bengaluru is better than other places, but not good enough. Not globally comparable. It is not demographically adequate. But don’t think for a moment that all that is happening is an 800-bed multispeciality hospital in IISc. The hospital is the focal point where doctors, biologists, nano-technologists, software and deep tech experts as much as med-tech start-ups will learn by doing. The bigger umbrella is the Institute of Medical Sciences, which will undertake cross-disciplinary research, training, innovation, capacity building. The hospital will be the stage on which they will all perform. It is called a bench-to-bed and bed-to-bench flow of knowledge.

New machines and equipment will be designed and tried here, new processes will be perfected here, new vaccines will be designed, developed and tried here. A whole new cadre of scientist-doctors will come out of it. This is not yet another fancy hospital. The future of medical knowledge will unfold here.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your philanthropic decisions?

It made Susmita and I, and at the same time Partha and Radha, rethink timelines. It gave us a sense of urgency like never before. We had a shared belief that we must spend our money for the larger good in our own lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic told us: Don’t think a lifetime can be a long time. Engage now, tomorrow may be too late.


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