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Social Entrepreneurs

Devi Shetty: India`s Famous Heart Surgeon

Dr. Devi Shetty is one of India's most famous heart surgeons. He's also a businessman and philanthropist.

In 2001, he built the country's biggest private heart clinic with donations. The clinic has 450 beds and 8 operating theaters that are in constant use. Shetty wants skillful management and mixed financing to reduce the price of the clinic, so that even poor people can afford treatment. For his work, Shetty received the Schwab Foundation's award for "Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2005". Michael Altenhenne met with him.


Saving lives while speaking on the phone presents no problems for an experienced surgeon. And Dr Devi Shetty has experience. He's already performed more than ten thousand heart operations and has one of the highest success rates worldwide. But the surgeon isn't just famous for his medical skills .He is also a successful businessman. Dr Shetty has more than halved the costs of a heart operation, despite higher standards of quality and expensive technology.

The secret of his success is the high number of operations. Shetty says: "In the western countries in a heart hospital, they do about one or two operations in a day. We do 25 heart operations in a day. So by the sheer size, our cost of procedure comes down. And our staff members, all my colleagues, work for about twelve to fourteen hours every day. And we run the infrastructure that we've created for fourteen to sixteen hours every day. So that way, your cost goes down."

The operation went off without any complications. After at least five hours in theatre, Dr. Shetty heads straight to the intensive care ward. The 50 year-old says he doesn't need a break. He's driven by the urge to help people. India has the highest number of people with heart conditions in the world. More than 300 children a day are born with a heart problem. The majority have no chance of survival, because their families are unable to afford an operation. But Dr Shetty operates on more than half his patients for nothing or at cost price: "Operations on babies are close to my heart, because I have four children. I love children. And also for the management, babies are something very precious. The management of this hospital believes that children belong to the society, they're not property of the family. So if the parents are not in a position to afford the high costs of heart operation, and if the babies come to us, we HAVE to do the operation, whether they have money or no money", he says.

The cardiac unit in Bangalore is both a refuge for poor people and a business model, because thousands of outpatients pay for their treatment. This income helps those unable to afford an expensive operation. Little Lemuel has travelled a long way to get here .... his parents are hoping Dr Shetty will help them. The boy will be operated on next day at the hospital's expense, but more than two million Indians are waiting for a heart operation. Heart surgery is a luxury item the world over. Shetty: "Less than eight percent of the world's population can afford heart operation, for 92 percent of the people living on this planet, heart surgery is a distant dream. So what you see is not a health problem only, it is an economic problem."

There's practically no health care for most Indians, especially those who live in rural areas. People who exist on a euro a day or less cannot afford medicines and doctors fees. Dr Shetty thinks this is wrong. He has started a private health scheme for farmers in the Karnataka region. Contributions work out at about 2 euros a year. In return they get medical treatment, including surgery in hospital. More than 2 million people have already joined the scheme. It's a success story for the doctors in this rural area, one that is set to be extended to other parts of India. Village Doctor Vikram Pranash says: "Devi Shetty is a man of vision and enormous energy. Thanks to his initiative, life for people here in the country has greatly improved."

From the roof of his hospital, Dr Shetty tells us about his latest project. A health city made up of specialist clinics ... an investment of about 20 million euros. "When you have five thousand beds, you'll have about 15 thousand to twenty thousand outpatients a day. When you have about twenty thousand outpatients in a day, money you generate in outpatients is sufficient for you to do the procedure inside the hospital virtually free. Essentially, you're making a dramatic change in the financing of the hospital", Shetty says. And it is an important change for many Indians, like two year-old Usha. She is recovering from major surgery. Her heart is beating, thanks to modern medicine and compassion. And it's easy to see that everything that Dr Shetty does comes from the heart.