I have been in and out of the Max Hospital in Saket the last week, mainly on account of my grandmother who is admitted in the hospital’s medical ICU, trying to beat a tough infection and the kidney failure it has brought on. My grandmother is over a 100 years old and is a fighter to the core. At her age, we know her prognosis is grim, however she is not giving in-not just yet at any rate.
As I spent time in the hospital, I could not help but notice the Afghans flooding the hospital. The tall and strapping Afghans, many in their traditional dresses are easily recognisable. Seeing so many of them using the hospital now, sent me back 5 years down the memory lane, when we had first looked at Afghanistan as a possible business opportunity.
Ashmeena Ghei, had just taken over as the Head of International Sales and I headed Marcom as well as domestic sales with in India. Dr. Praveen Chandra had joined the interventional cardiology team and was keen to taking a medical team to Kabul. In his earlier assignment at the Escorts Heart Institute, Dr. Chandra had successfully organised many such camps. Between him and Ashmeena, we assembled the team for Kabul. Ashmeena went earlier to set up everything, the team’s stay arrangements, local hospital tie ups, publicity for the medical camp, permissions from local authorities et al. I arranged all the publicity material-getting posters and banners in Dari was a tough ask, but we got everything organised and sent to Kabul by the Indian Airlines flight, only to discover errors in camp dates!!!. I had no way of understanding what dates have been printed in the Dari script and these were discovered when our material reached Kabul. Panic hit the Delhi team and we worked overnight to correct the mistakes and resend everything.
Dr. Chandra and his team’s visit was hugely successful. They treated scores of local people and generated tremendous goodwill for the hospital. We had them on the local Tolo TV station and the local press covered the camp. Ashmeena also roped in the general sales agent of Indian Airlines based in Kabul as the local Max Healthcare representative. His office was right opposite the Indian embassy in Nowshar area of the city and this proved hugely beneficial as patients planning to travel to India could get their visas at the embassy, walk across the road to purchase their tickets and also get information about Max Hospitals. The office was inaugurated with much fanfare with new Max signboards being put up in English and Dari. We also forged a referral tie up with the local Blossoms Hospital. This was to be used for regular referrals to Max Hospitals in Delhi.
That began a small trickle of patients from Kabul. Subsequently when Ashmeena moved on, I took over from her as the Head of International business at Max Healthcare. The traffic from Afghanistan continued to grow, we appointed a few agents in Delhi who regularly brought in their patients, hired local Afghans as translators and continued sending medical teams to Kabul frequently. My successors at Max have done a fantastic job of extending the Afghan connection so much so that in December last year when my father was hospitalised in Max for prostate surgery, I received a call from the hospital’s international desk, with someone trying to hold a conversation with me in Dari!!!. Going by our Muslim name, the desk had simply assumed that my father must be another Afghan patient admitted in the hospital.
Sitting quietly in the hospital cafeteria I could not help but watch with pride the multi-hued, multilingual and truly international set of patients using the hospital’s services. The preponderance of the Afghans in this mix made me wonder that the seed that was planted so many years ago has grown into a big tree.