Innovative Health Care for the Poor: Comparing China and India

On Monday, February 13, the Center for the Study of Asia and the East Asian Studies Program at Boston University cosponsored a talk by Prof. Tarun Khanna on “Innovative Provision of Health Care to the Poor in India and China.” Prof. Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Leman Professor at Harvard Business School and the Director of South Asia Initiative at Harvard University. His 2008 publication, Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India are Reshaping their Futures and Yours, compares the rises of China and India on the world stage and has been translated into several languages. Mark Allen, the Faculty Director of the Health Sector Management Program at BU School of Management moderated the talk. And Min Ye, the Director of East Asian Studies Program and Assistant Professor in International Relations at BU introduced the speakers.

In the talk, Khanna introduced a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Shetty in Mumbai, India. Dr. Shetty’s hospital accepts penniless patients and carries out numerous heart operations on the poor. However, according to Prof. Khanna, it demonstrates a business model more than charity for the poor, because the hospital has been exceptionally profitable, and in the past ten years has expanded, covering a variety of operations in addition to cardiac surgery. The reason, as Prof. Khanna explains, is economy of scale. Dr. Shetty and his associates perform multiple times more operations than their counterparts in America and thus greatly reduced per operation cost.

Prof. Khanna’s talk ignited vigorous discussion and provoked fresh thinking among the students and faculty members in audience. Many asked and pondered how the U.S health care could be made more efficiently and what lessons the U.S could learn from Dr. Shetty. On China, Prof. Khanna argues that Dr. Shetty’s model is applicable to China, because China’s demography was similar to India’s and the Chinese government is capable of laying down infrastructure for large scale hospital care in many areas of China. Without making a direct link, however, Prof. Khanna ascribes the lack of similar social entrepreneurs in China to information bias.

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