AAPI ceremony displays all that is wonderful and frustrating about India.
KOCHI: And so it began on New Year’s Day. Kochi, a city in Kerala on the shores of the Arabian Sea, played host to over a thousand physicians for the inauguration of the Global Healthcare Summit. Under the sponsorship of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the convention heard welcome addresses from a slew of VIPs (it wouldn’t be an Indian conference without this) including the Chief Minister of Kerala, the Union Minister for Overseas Affairs, the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, the President of the American Medical Association, as well as industry leaders such as the CEO of Medtronic and the Chairman of the Apollo Hospitals Group of India.
Being a Keralite myself I thought the meeting would be nothing more than a Kerala friends’ reunion. However, I was surprised by the sheer number of physicians of North Indian origin, many of whom have been practicing in the U.S. for decades. Most of the delegates have come with their family, and it’s not hard to see why. Kerala or ‘God’s own Country’, as its marketing department would emphasize, is a beautiful land with lush coconut trees, miles of beaches, serene backwater channels, as well as a growing market of plush ayurvedic, yoga and tea-plantation retreats.
The opening ceremony displayed all that is wonderful and at the same time all that is frustrating about India. A luxury conference facility scarred by the obligatory, be it short, power cut. Long speeches marked by the customary renditions of servitude. A beautiful display of choreographed classical Keralan dance followed by a smash and grab buffet in the confines of a humid open-air auditorium. The President of the American Medical Association looked hot; by that I mean he was sweating a fair bit. It could have been the food or it could have been the weather. A convention here in the summer would have been unbearable.
Accessibility, quality and cost of healthcare are the themes of this meeting. At first glance it appears to be a giant networking space for all those interested in healthcare in the sub-continent. Gone are the days of Indian doctors leaving India for the golden shores of the US. Now, it seems doctors of Indian origin are keen to return to their motherland and explore opportunities in money rich India. I was speaking with the recruitment officer for one large multispecialty hospital that is about to open here: they had 16 qualified applicants from the UK for a specialist position. Ten years ago that would have been unheard of.
And why choose Kerala? Apart from the fact that the current president of AAPI, Dr. Narendra Kumar, is from Kerala, the state has a particularly strong contingent of physicians active in healthcare in the Middle East, UK and USA. Cities like Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram (the state capital) are buoyant hubs of healthcare tourism; be it for not so well off Arabs (yes, they do exist), or nationals from Far Eastern countries. When the citizens of the luxury holiday islands of the Maldives become ill, their government arranges medical care for them in Kerala. Does it work the other way round? If I get sick here will they send me to the Maldives?
(Dr. Khurshid R Ghani is a Fellow at the Vattikuti Urology Institute, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI, with interests in Robotic Surgery and Endourology. A UK Board qualified Urologist who studied Medicine and Psychology at the University of Leeds, he was awarded The Urology Foundation Robotic Urologic Surgery Fellowship from the British Association of Urological Surgeons. He is the co-author of the textbook, Endourology: A Practical Handbook. He spent time as a junior surgeon in Zimbabwe and was awarded the Lindsay Stewart Prize from the Association of Surgeons of East Africa. He is married to Muna, who is the Manager of Executive Communications at General Motors, Detroit. They have two daughters, Hana, 3 years, and Sofia, 1 month.)