The Address of Good Health
By Deepa Natarajan.
Bengaluru-based AddressHealth aims to make children healthier, happier and more successful individuals, by offering a range of school-based healthcare services and programmes, writes Deepa Natarajan.
What we instill in our children will become the right foundation for their future - Steve Maraboli
According to a 2017 report by EY-FICCI on the education sector in India, the K-12 school system in India is one of the largest in the world with more than 1.4 million schools enrolling over 250 million students.
Despite being a country with such a large population of school-going children, India unfortunately doesn’t have the culture of a general wellness check-up for children. However, the right start towards good health early on in life can go a long way in helping children become healthier, happier and more successful individuals and AddressHealth, a Bengaluru-based organization, aims to bridge this gap by offering a range of healthcare services and programmes for school-going children.
The brainchild of Dr Anand Lakshman and Dr Anoop Radhakrishnan, AddressHealth was born with a dream to change the way child healthcare is practised in the country. The basic aim was to reach out to as many children as possible through schools and ensure that they are in the pink of their health without paying a heavy price for it.
As students of Mysore Medical College, Anand and Anoop would often dream about doing something in the field of healthcare that was non-hospital centric. “If you look at a computer, it has moved from large to small mainframe to point of use. But healthcare, we feel, is still stuck in the mainframe. We are building big hospitals and hoping that people will occupy those hospitals. Just like in the olden days, even nobel laureates had to get an appointment to use one of those big computers,” notes Anand who went on to do his Masters in Health Administration from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and work in various international organizations related to child healthcare including the WHO. While Dr Anoop pursued his MBA from IIM-Lucknow and started companies related to investment banking and medical tourism.
Subsequently, the two discussed their common aim to start a company that focussed on primary healthcare for children. “I was based in Delhi at that point of time. I decided to quit my job and come to Bengaluru. That’s when we founded AddressHealth,” recalls Dr Anand. An interesting name, Address is a both a noun and a verb, he points out. “It’s a new address for good health as a noun, while as a verb, it addresses proactive healthcare instead of reactive.” Since paediatrics was their strength, they decided to focus on it and branch out to the other areas later. “We have stuck to paediatric health as our main focus as there is so much to do in that itself,” he adds.
Like any other start-up, AddressHealth too had its fair share of glitches, like shoestring budget, and limited resources and capital. But much bigger challenges like providing non-hospital centric community-based healthcare awaited the team once they took the plunge. Dr Anoop says, “What we do is part of a labour and knowledge-intensive sector that has not been tapped much yet, not just in India but across the world. Additionally, most public health programmes in India are provided by the government as opposed to private bodies.”
Dealing with the general mentality of people too proved to be a challenge as Anoop points out, “Preventive healthcare is something that still needs to be established in our country. For instance, most parents have the attitude that they can take care of their children without opting for any general health checkup.”
Besides, there are many misconceptions associated with children’s health too in India, says Anand, adding, “We don’t recognize child obesity as a problem. A plump child is considered healthy and thanks to over nutrition, inactivity and increasing screen time, there is a rising number of plump children in India. Dental hygiene is yet another big misconception. It’s not taken too seriously since it’s considered that the child’s milk teeth will fall anyway. They only go to a pediatrician for vaccination or when the child is sick. There is no wellness or regular checkup wherein we can have a general chat with the doctor about the child’s health.”
So the team started with a consumer-centric approach but soon realized that the model required a B2B approach. “Rather than approaching each child or parent individually, it made sense to approach them on a group or collective basis; in that way, we overcame many of the challenges,” says Anoop.
The Good Health Programs
So it started tying up with schools to make a more profound impact. While Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) programme only covers government schools, the start-up decided to introduce primary healthcare in private schools. Today, they provide comprehensive annual health checkup in CBSE and ICSE schools in addition to health promotional workbooks for school kids. There are also doctors onboard teaching them all about healthy living in a simple, innovative and effective way. Apart from emotional well-being programs, setting up medical rooms in schools is also a part of their holistic paediatric primary healthcare services. And their entire model is a financially sustainable one, as private schools are willing to pay for health services, which comes from a portion of students’ fees.
A part of their programme also includes interacting with and training teachers. “As part of some of our services, we train and orient teachers on issues like the importance of mental health; behavioural cues, basic life support in the case of emergencies, etc. Many teachers also request us to give talks on topics like the health problems associated with stress and anger. We are aware that these teachers are not healthcare professionals so all these sessions are part of their regular day-to-day activities,” says Anand.
In the Pipeline
AddressHealth is now present in four cities - Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi and Pune. “As of now in the next two to three years, we are looking at consolidating our presence in many more places and exploring our models through health education and infirmary management,” says Anand.
While India is a hotbed for innovative healthcare models, everything is still very fragmented. But Anand feels this is a good thing. “India is a diverse country and it’s good to be fragmented because we can’t address only one part of healthcare as priority. For instance, there is large number of malnourished children in rural areas and in places like Uttar Pradesh, children are dying of diseases that can be prevented by a vaccine. But in urban areas, there is a rising trend of obesity. So there are certain aspects that the government will handle while there are other parts of healthcare that some NGOs and private organizations like us will address.”