As a child, whenever he fell ill, good healthcare would eludeSushant Meshram. "I couldn't receive good treatment as I was poor and a dalit," he says. Today, as a sleep physician in Nagpur, the 41-year-old does his bit to ensure those two attributes are not the basis for denial of treatment.
At the second floor of Neeti Gaurav Complex, near Ramdaspeth in Nagpur, a dozen kids are queued up to consult Meshram, whose board announces him as Central India's only certified sleep physician. When he was their age, though, he was working. At the tender age of 12, Meshram would pack small boxes in a plastics factory in Nagpur and earn Rs 5 per day. His family needed that money as his father was a worker in the ordnance factory and mother a maid.
Despite their poverty, Meshram and his siblings received a good education. Meshram went to a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Nagpur, where most of his classmates were from upper castes. But neither poverty nor the caste-based differences deterred him in his studies. Meshram always came first or second, and topped 90%; even in medical college, he was an accomplished student, and he went on to do a fellowship from the prestigious John Hopkins Medical University in the US. While studying medicine in Nagpur, he recalls incidents of discrimination from upper-caste teachers. He failed a semester in third year after a tiff with a professor. "We argued over a pathology slide project and I was later declared failed. I was not supposed to raise my voice."
CLINIC TO HOSPITAL
Those days of hardship led him to another decision, one that is now a business plan. Meshram is looking beyond his clinic, which is currently a Rs 10 lakh venture. He is setting up a 30-bed, multi-specialty hospital in Nagpur, for Rs 10 crore:Ambedkar Institute of Medical Science.
Spread over 7,000 sq ft, the hospital is expected to open in December. Four doctors, one of them being Meshram, are the primary stakeholders; plus, there are a few investors. The venture has secured bank loans of Rs 5 crore for the construction and equipment, and 10 doctors have signed up. Meshram wants to take this chain to Raipur, Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad as well.
In order to be stay affordable to those who need it the most, the hospital will cross-subsidise services. Those who have the ability to pay will be charged extra, while the poor will either not pay or pay a minimal amount. "One engine pulls along various classes of bogies - be it general, sleeper or air-conditioned - to reach the same destination," says Meshram.
"Our hospital will serve all classes of people with equality." The stakeholder-doctors are also finalising plans for a medical college, and are talking to the government on land and policy issues.