Your Grace Archbishop Filipe Neri, Your Holiness Anna Maharaj of Pinguli, Pesh Imam Haji Mohammed Ali Qadri of the Jama Masjid, Rev. Fathers, Rev. Sisters of JMJ Hospital and distinguished guests.
While preparing my address this evening, I was in two minds as to the language it should be delivered in – Konkani or Hindi or English.
As a one hundred percent Goan I love Konkani. And ever since arriving in Goa six years ago from abroad, I attempted to acquire a working knowledge of the language of my forefathers. Having gradually gained proficiency, I recently tried to carry out a serious conversation in Konkani with one of my Goan friends; but two minutes into the discourse he stopped me short, looked me in the eye and said that he liked the way I spoke Japanese!!
Having also spent about ten years of my life in the Hindi heartland of North India, I am quite at ease speaking Hindi. But following the past two months of media bombardment with news coverage of the general elections, I was introduced yesterday to a fellow from North India who was convinced that I was the older brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party!!
Given this background, I decided to play safe and talk to you in English.
On behalf of Trustees of the Goa-America Heart Foundation Trust (GAHFT), I extend a warm welcome to you all for coming here this evening. You have made great sacrifices to be present and considering that it is a working day this makes it all the more meaningful.
Let me assure you, this is neither a fund raising event, nor a political campaign tamasha. What you are here to witness is a Labour of Love. And taking the time and trouble to travel long distances to be here is a palpable manifestation of a labour of love on your part as well.
What is the Goa-America Heart Foundation all about? It is an association of professional people drawn from diverse walks of life who decided to pool their expertise and resources to give relief to the lives of the common man in the field of cardiac care in Goa - regardless of social standing, by delivering the highest standards of treatment at reasonable cost.
So we set up a non-profit Trust comprising people living in Goa and Goans in America. We have eleven Trustees on our board. The five of us based in Goa are:
-Dr. Deepak Murty, a prominent ENT surgeon.
-Ralph deSousa, Chairman of the DeSouza Group.
-Natarajan Sriram, Director of the Tulip Group, who manufacture medical diagnostics.
-Sergio Freitas, retired MD of Betts India, a multinational company
-and myself, a retired CMD of a transnational group in the UK.
There are six Trustees of Indian origin based in the USA. Prominent among them is Dr. Joseph Anthony Gomes (Tony Gomes), a cardiologist of international fame.
There is a new invention known as Electrophysiology which has grown into an important component of Cardiology the world over. Dr Gomes, a son of the soil from Aldona, did his MBBS from GMC in 1970 before migrating to America. He was the one who pioneered Electrophysiology and founded the first Electrophysiology laboratory in New York City at Mount Sinai Center. For the past ten years he has been rated among the Best Doctors of America. He has lectured all over the world and is a visiting professor of cardiology at prominent American and other Universities including the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Univ. of Sao Paolo in Brazil, and several others.
It is a matter of immense pride and a great honour to say that Dr. Gomes is a founder Trustee of GAHFT and a source of continuing inspiration in whatever we do.
Yet another prominent Cardiologist in America and son of Goa, Dr. Neville Mascarenhas of Navelim, is someone of whom we must be equally proud. It was Dr. Neville who mooted the idea of setting up a cardiac centre in Goa supported by likeminded persons in the USA. His love for the motherland knows no bounds, and he has been the single largest donor to the project so far. The Trust decided to name the Diagnostic Clinic after his late father. Neville works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to raise funds for GAHF.
But what, you may ask, is this obsession with Cardiac care?
Let me share a few statistics with you:
1. The reputed British Medical Journal “Lancet” in a recent study claims that by year 2010 India will contribute 60% of the total number of cases of heart disease in the world.
2. Mortality data obtained from the Registrar Gen. of India showed that in 1998 cardiovascular disease contributed 27% of the country’s deaths with Goa being one of the four States with the highest incidence.
3. A majority of deaths in Goa State are lifestyle related. Of the 6 to 7 persons who reportedly die in Goa every day, cardiovascular disease continues to be the highest killer.
4. One study of 1500 patients attending clinics of 10 GPs showed prevalence of coronary heart disease was high. In most cases the disease remained undetected and patients were at risk of a heart attack because of poor control over blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
5. According to the Voluntary Health Association of India, there is a cardiovascular disease epidemic unfolding in Goa with an urgent need for primary and secondary prevention.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a growing trend in private medical care which caters to the wealthy. But the poor have nowhere to go. In order to pay for urgent medical costs, they are forced to cut back on other essential requirements of nutrition, education or savings.
Which begs the question why does this state of affairs exist?
According to World Bank estimates, 456 million people – over 40% of India’s population of 1.2 billion now live on less than $1.25 per day, a yardstick recognized as the international poverty line. On the other hand there is a massive explosion of wealth creation among the middle and upper echelons of Indian society with Indian billionaires now occupying four of the top eight slots on the Forbes Rich list. So while growth has benefited one section of society it has left a vast swathe of the population lagging far behind.
So what can one do about it?
To quote the late US President Woodrow Wilson “All of us are here to enrich the world but we impoverish ourselves if we forget that that is our mandate”. GAHF wants to make a tiny dent in the lives of people of Goa, not just the poor, to improve their quality of life without extracting its pound of flesh. We have no other agenda but to deliver a quality of service that dignifies all men regardless of social background. And we budget for zero profit. The new OPD cardiac diagnostic clinic is the first step towards establishing a state of the art cardiac centre. We plan to finance initial capital from donations and meet recurring expenses from revenues earned in treating the more well-off to subsidize the less fortunate. But no patient will be exploited at any level.
A member of this audience has said that “the greatest disservice we can do to ourselves is to expect a free gift. Our Creator gave us two wonderful gifts, the gift of life and a wonderful world to live it in. Because they came free of charge so we took them for granted. And see what an almighty mess we have made of both.” So it is our philosophy not to prefix the word “free” to treatment. Every patient, whatever be his status, must participate in the cost of his own healthcare, however small. This will make him better appreciate the benefit he derives. As Henry Ford said, “time and money spent in helping men to do more for themselves is far better than mere giving”.
With an eye to cost control, our diagnostic clinic has a waiting room with wooden benches rather than plush furniture; but it is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to emphasize quality in the work it will do. I will be failing in my duty if I did not make a mention of the people who will man the clinic. Seated to my left is our Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Jyoti Kusnur. Dr. Jyoti was born in Goa, studied at Rosary School, did her MBBS at GMC and qualified for the MD four years later. She then applied for and was granted admission for the DNB super-specialization in cardiology for which only a very tiny minority qualify nationally each year. And she was one of them. She’s had a brilliant academic career throughout and I recall her response at the first interview when asked “why did you choose cardiology as your field?” and she said “because I witnessed so many needless deaths due to heart failure in my younger days”. The words “needless deaths” ladies and gentlemen, coming from a member of GenNext, says it all and truly vindicates our raison d’etre. We are proud to have Dr. Jyoti lead the team; she will be the first interventional cardiologist to operate out of North Goa. Apart from being a brilliant doctor as her former boss described her, Dr. Jyoti possesses unique qualities of humanitarianism and compassion for the suffering, which in developing India happily underscores a commitment to the Hippocratic Oath. Dr Jyoti will be ably assisted by Dr. Shipra Pednekar.
The Trust set up a committee of reputed physicians in Goa to advise us on plans and programs. The Committee has rendered valuable service over the past year and its membership comprises:
Dr. CJ Vas, Neurologist
Dr. VN Jindal, Dean of GMC and neuro surgeon
Dr. Dubashi, Prof. & Head of the Dept. of Medicine GMC
Dr. Oscar Rebello, renowned physician
Dr. Rajeshwar Naik, Cardiologist from Margao
Dr. Sidney Pinto-Rozario of Porvorim
Dr. Suzette Menezes ex-Head of Pathology at GMC
Dr. Francis Colaco, Cardiologist.
While working on this project there have been days of frustration and days of success. But when one has nothing but the interests of one’s fellowmen at heart, the almighty is always seen to come to your aid. Whenever a door has been closed to us, two more have opened up as if by an unseen hand.
The groundswell of support from the public at large, both the educated elite and the man on the street, has been nothing short of humbling. This lends encouragement to the belief that if you try to do good without a personal motive, only good can result.
It has been said that the world has focused on the ‘curative’ aspect of healthcare to the almost total exclusion of ‘preventative’ care. There are more medicines available on the shelves of pharmacies than there are people taking a walk in the park. Mentored by Dr. Tony Gomes, the Trust will launch a program of awareness in rural areas to educate people of all ages about vulnerability to heart disease, the need for pre-emptive measures and changes in diet and lifestyle that could check the growth in number of afflicted citizens. With this in mind, a special handbook on “Health & Diseases of the Heart” has been developed by Dr. Jyoti Kusnur in collaboration with the USA and our Physicians’ Committee. It will shortly be published for the Goan audience. Here is a mock up of the final document.
Our OPD Cardiac diagnostic clinic represents only a small beginning covering two rooms set apart from the JMJ hospital. But then, small beginnings make for great endings and we shall relentlessly pursue the fulfillment of the rest of the dream.
None of us will be alive a hundred years from now; but one hopes that when that time comes, the small start we have made today, this little seed we have planted, will have grown into something beautiful and useful, something which would provide relief to thousands of suffering people in the years ahead. It is my fervent hope that by the time the 22nd century comes around, posterity will say of all of us gathered here today that we did not live in vain.
Thank you, Namaskar, Khuda Afis, Dev borem korum.