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What is the Secret to Better Health in Developing Societies?

Last week I went to a talk in Dunedin, New Zealand by one of the doers of the world, Dr Sujit Brahmochary, M.D. Dr Sujit started as a doctor with just a table 18 years ago in one of the poorest parts of India, Bengal. His Institute for Indian Mother & Child now touches the lives of 300,000 people and is growing quickly.

Dr Sujit’s description of what he had built over 18 years, for me turned out to be an interesting description of how he learned what made a difference to developing societies through a long journey of effort and learning. Learning from mistakes, and learning from continually getting deeper and deeper into his chosen mission in life.

He was born to a poor rural Indian family, but was fortunate enough to train to be a doctor in Belgium, so he could have earned a great living in Europe, or at least in a big Indian city. But instead he chose to make a difference in one India’s poorest states, Bengal. So he became a doctor in India. (80% of people in India live rurally, and 90% of these have no access to healthcare). Dr. Sujit made the point that Primary and Preventive Healthcare can solve 80% of health problems amongst the population. So he dedicated himself to helping the health of the poorest of the poor. “Being accessible is very important to build trust in the Developing World”. He started with just a single table.

He quickly realised that he could do little without a supply of medicines and equipment, so he worked to attain support and connections to assist in this need. “If you are right, then people will join with you.””If you do good work, people will join with you.”  Organisations such as the Japanese Consulate showed up and donated an X-ray machine.

But after a longer period of time, he realised that 40% of all healthcare problems could be solved by Nutrition, or “2 Meals a Day”.  “Nobody dies from starvation. You die from malnutrition, or a low immune system, or dehydration. The key is nutrition”. Nutrition for Dr Sujit is simply 2 meals a day, with protein, some fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. That is enough.

But more time passed, and Dr. Sujit realised something else. Education was the key. “Be a teacher first”. To be a better doctor, he had to be a better teacher, and teach people not just how to be healthy, how to prevent sickness, how to avoid germs, how to eat, but even more important how to live, how to grow, how to be strive and grow beyond your station in life you were born into (especially in India, with a very harsh caste system for those on the bottom rung of the ladder). In fact, now Dr. Sujit’s institute no longer builds medical centers (they have 6) but instead schools (they have 26 and growing). “If you take care of  educating all the children of a village, a generation later, you won’t have to do anything more. They will take care of themselves and their village.”  School students don’t get sick. Those who don’t go to school, are the ones who also tend to get sick.

More time passed, and Dr. Sujit realised that education could birth more easily out of Economic Development, in particular Professor Yunus’ Grameen Bank Model of Development (giving micro-loans to mothers so they could start a business and send their children to school instead of work in the fields).

Beyond Economics, lay stable Agriculture, because that is where good nutrition and the ability to provide for a family’s basic needs come from.

And finally, after everything else, came the final step; Social and Cultural Development. What really is Development? “It is giving everybody respect, and give them an opportunity.” So now, the Institute for Indian Mother & Child has 300,000 people within its care and growth. And Dr. Sujit after 18 years of hard work, has travelled full circle and knows deeply how to effect change in developing societies.

After the lecture, I commented to Dr. Sujit about how his journey seemed to go continually deeper, from wanting to be a doctor, to being a teacher, to an economist, farmer, and finally being a builder of communities. I asked him what role remote medicine/ education and the internet could play. He replied that it is coming. Already every classroom in his schools has a computer, and in 2-3 years from now, he believes the internet is the medium to concentrate on to achieve maximum penetration for education and development in the developing world. So it seems Lifetime Health Diary timing is very good for developing world as we move forward.

Yours in Health,

Hamish

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