Plugging the gap When it comes to healthcare, the urban poor often find themselves choosing between the government's substandard facilities and priva
No one should have to choose between eating, education and quality healthcare. And yet it’s a decision many living in Bengaluru will be forced to make in the face of continuous underfunding of public healthcare. In a choice between substandard government care and private expensive treatments, many people pick the latter, potentially paying lakhs towards their healthcare.
For the city’s urban poor, this choice can have disastrous consequences. Perhaps it’s your maid at home, the security guard at your office, or that auto-rickshaw driver you took to come to the coffee shop this morning. These urban poor, who earn anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 10,000 each month, are likely to be pushed into chronic poverty along with the 39 million other Indians pushed below the poverty line each year because of exorbitant private healthcare expenses.
Helping each other Bengaluru-based tech entrepreneur Raghurama Kote understands the struggles people face when they fall sick, all too well. In one of his trips to his hometown of Kalanja in Bellare village in 2011, Raghurama was approached by Shashi Kiran, a young man suffering from chronic kidney failure. With no health facilities nearby and lengthy waiting times, Shashi needed six lakhs for an operation in a private hospital. Otherwise, he would probably die.
Unable to provide the money himself, Raghurama sent an email around his 1000-strong company, raising Rs 3 lakh within a week and getting Shashi the life-saving operation he needed.
Surprised at the generosity of his colleagues, Raghurama met with techies Girish and Vinay to see how they could use their skills to somehow formalise this idea. And so, they created Right to Live, India’s first medical crowdfunding platform, as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative through outsourcing firm Opteamix.
Raghurama identifies loopholes, suggesting earnings don’t always correlate to take-home money for the urban poor and that some groups (auto-rickshaw drivers, for example) fall through social welfare scheme gaps as they may not necessarily hold a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card.
The model is remarkably straightforward, built on the dual principles of trust and transparency and formalises the already commonplace culture of informally helping out your friends and neighbours. “We live in a world where everyone disbelieves each other; if a beggar is on the street, we may not believe him to be poor. We’re interested in the circle of trust model. If we each know 100 people, we can campaign for one patient,”
Raghurama tells me, adding that people are always willing to help each other out. So far, donations have reached 1.8 crores and provided life-saving medical treatment for 50 people. An additional 20-plus, often illiterate, patients have been helped through paperwork assistance and steered through the complex system of government funding schemes.
What’s unique about Right to Live, Raghurama says, is that all operational costs and resourcing are covered by Opteamix, meaning 100 per cent of donations (as well as international bank transfers) cover hospital treatment.Patients are referred to Right to Live through NGOs, hospitals and people calling in directly. The prerequisites for treatment include a thorough background check, medical background check, visiting patients’ homes and doing a ‘subjective’ analysis and talking to neighbours and hospitals.
For the Right to Live Foundation, charity is a social obligation and the current inconsistency between private hospital rates (and lack of universal rate card, as well as doctors flitting between well-paying private facilities and poorer public ones) and substandard public healthcare make it more crucial than ever. “Given India’s population and poverty, people who earn a decent amount have a social obligation to help poor patients. The government can’t solve all our problems and if you look at a city like Bengaluru, there’s a thriving middle and upper class that are happy and willing to donate. There are one million people working in the IT sector. If they give Rs 250 a month, that could be our target, they just need a channel and that’s what we provide.”
What started as a simple idea has blossomed into something much greater, providing hope to people who would otherwise fall through the cracks and miss out on social welfare schemes. Just imagine: if we all donated Rs. 250 a month, how many more lives could be saved?
You can contact the organisation at www.righttolive.org.