Welcome to our seventh episode, featuring the inspiring husband and wife duo, Dr. Nandakumar Menon and Dr. Shylaja (Shyla) Devi.
In this episode we welcome two extraordinary individuals who have made an enormous impact on improving healthcare accessibility and delivery for indigenous populations in rural India. Shyla, a gynecologist, and Nandakumar, a surgeon, selflessly dropped a successful practice and comfortable lifestyle in the United States to follow their dreams of starting a hospital for underprivileged populations in their home country. They landed in Gudalur Valley with dreams of aiding the Adivasi, a historically persecuted tribal indigenous population in India. The Adivasi have suffered from hundreds of years of prejudicial colonial oppression leading to their complete societal isolation. Abandoned by the government and cut off from modern medicine, the Adivasi lived in extremely poor health with debilitatingly high maternal and child mortality, and rampant casualties from treatable health conditions and complications.
This egregious neglect inspired the duo to help the Advisasi obtain adequate healthcare, and so, the Association for Health Welfare of the Nilgiri (ASHWINI) was founded in 1990. ASHWINI is a charitable organization with the mission of establishing healthcare facilities to serve the Adivasi. Most importantly, Shyla and Nandakumar knew that if they were to gain the trust of these individuals and truly make a difference, they would have to empower the Adivasi to embrace their own medical autonomy. They decided that these institutions must be both owned and managed by the Adivasi people themselves. Thus, in one of the most pristine examples of capacity building and decolonizing healthcare, the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital was established. This hospital has grown to have 50 beds and 8 community sub-centres. It trains and employs the Adivasi people as nurses and other healthcare personnel and is self-sustaining. They have managed to completely transform health outcomes in the Gudalur Valley, all while generating an impressive revenue stream for the people. Their secret to success: build capacity and trust first. If you can empower someone to take their health into their own hands, and give them the tools to do so, the rest will fall into place. In their eyes, the foundation of global health and surgery is altruism. They emphasize that “Healthcare has no beneficiaries”; if one wishes to truly make a difference, everything you do must be for the greater good of the people you are doing it for. Tune in to hear their incredible story.
Check out their recently launched platform where health professionals can find job opportunities in rural areas in India and make a difference just like them: https://ruralhospitalnetwork.org/