Dr. Shelly Batra, MD, co-founded Operation ASHA and has led the organization as President since 2005.
Shelly was selected as Schwab Fellow & Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the World Economic Forum in 2014. She is also an Ashoka Changemaker and a best-selling Penguin author. She is a highly renowned Senior Obstetrician & Gynecologist and Advanced Laparoscopy Surgeon in New Delhi, India. Her dedication to ‘reaching the unreached’ started decades ago, when she went into the slums in Delhi, providing pro-bono life-saving treatments and operations as well as free consultations, medicines and counseling. She has contributed heavily through various media channels, such as television and newspapers, to impart medical knowledge and create awareness. She has been interviewed extensively by BBC, Al Jazeera, and many other Television and print media.
She has taught on Global Health Issues at the University of Chicago, and has lectured at major universities, including Harvard School of Public Health, University of Illinois, UC Berkeley, Said School of Business (Oxford), Cambridge University, and Indian Institute of Science, among others. She was invited to deliver the Hippocrates Society Women in Medicine lecture at Wellesley College.
With her extensive medical knowledge and in-depth understanding, she brings the experience necessary for running a health NGO. She is skilled at donor relations and fundraising, and is a highly sought out speaker at national and international platforms. She was invited by the World Bank in Oct 2014 to do a TEDx talk, and again by the prestigious IIM Indore for another TEDx talk. She was invited as the keynote speaker at Social Enterprise Summit, Geneva Health Forum 2014, and has been a participant and speaker at several events organized by the World Economic Forum, including the Annual Summit at Davos. She has been a panellist at Global Innovation Roundtable (GIR) by National Innovation Council, Government of India, among others.
Shelly is a powerful advocate for better health practices worldwide. She was one of the 4 speakers invited in 2014 to make a presentation to the US Senate to raise awareness about Tuberculosis, the killer epidemic, and the need to step up funding. She has been a Guest Speaker at the USAID Digital Development Forum in New Delhi. She has made Presentations to USAID mission in New Delhi, with missions from other countries on video. For 2 years in succession, she was invited to IPIHD, The International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery, in Washington, DC to present papers and for panel discussions. During her leadership, OpASHA has won several awards, including the Wall Street journal technology innovation Award, Financial Times Innovation Prize, and the Porter Prize for innovative health delivery.
Shelly has herself been the recipient of multiple awards, accolades and recognitions, including the Exemplary Contribution Award for selfless work for the underserved, given by the Indian Medical Association. She holds an M.D. from King George’s Medical College, India, where she was the recipient of several gold medals and certificates of honour for academic excellence and extracurricular activities.
Given below is her interview with Network Capital.
Q1. What do you do? What drives you? What is your vision?
I am the founder & president of Operation ASHA. I am a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology and laparoscopic surgeon. Ten years back I founded Operation ASHA to work inTuberculosis, which is the biggest health crisis in the world. There are 10.9 million new cases of TB in the world each year. Unfortunately, incomplete and irregular treatment has led to severe forms of drug resistance.
OpASHA has a low-cost high-impact scalable and replicable model using local people as health givers. We use eCompliance technology created by Microsoft Research. This is the biometric fingerprinting device where every dose is monitored for a full 6 months to ensure adherence and prevent drug resistance.
The driving force behind my work is towards an immediate need for eradication of TB in the world. According to the WHO. The global incidence of TB is falling at a very low rate which is about 1.5% per year. At this rate, we will not eradicate TB, even in 170 years. We need a decline of at least 5% per year to meet the SDG’s of TB elimination by 2035
The next step in my career would be to replicate Operation ASHAs model by collaborating with local NGO’s and Governments in order to serve people who have been neglected, such as the Romas of Europe, refugees, and tribals. People who live on the fringes of society have no access to health. They have neither the resources nor time to reach public hospitals, and are often intimidated by them. Another very important step shall be to serve as a resource center. We shall train NGOs and governments to replicate our low cost, high impact, local and deep model.
My vision is that of a TB free world. TB is fully curable and no one should die of TB.
Q2. If you were to reflect upon your careers, what would be some of the most defining moments that have shaped your professional journey?
As a young medical student in the 70s, I dreamt of becoming a surgeon. Everything about surgery fascinated me: the long hours, the sleepless nights, the unmistakable adrenalin rush and sense of satisfaction of saving a human life.
Three decades later, I had reached the pinnacle of my success. I had a reputation as an accomplished and compassionate surgeon and was wooed by fancy private hospitals with even fancier pay packages and perks. I selected the best the city could offer: a plush corporate hospital with the best equipment & where operating was a luxury itself
Those who have visited India have seen urban slums, straggling hutments, and shanties standing cheek-by-jowl with glittering, imposing mansions and skyscrapers. There, those regarded worse than human excreta, make their home. They are the invisible poor – faceless and voiceless – of no use to anybody. The well-off regard them as carriers of filth and disease. Politicians ignore them because they have no vote. Some have huts made of cardboard boxes covered by plastic sheets. There is no running water and there are no toilets. There are no roads: only miles of dust tracks where humans live in subhuman conditions.
One day, I gathered my courage and entered one such slum. The stench was unbearable. I had never seen such a harrowing sight. Women and children scrabbled through mountains of garbage with their bare hands, picking up food and putting it in their mouths. I was close to tears, nausea, and anger. I ran in panic, trying to shut my eyes to what I had just witnessed; the infinite degradation of mankind
But I went again, and again. The next time with cartons of protein biscuits, and then with a stethoscope, a BP apparatus, and a prescription pad. I sat on a pile of stones and treated patients for diarrhea, dysentery, malnutrition, anemia, skin infections, eye infections, cuts, and burns, whatever. With great reservation, I admitted some and operated on others, worried about who would pay for the admission and medicine.
I had gone from operating rooms to the dust tracks. But in those dust tracks is where I found what was missing: my dream job at Operation ASHA.
Q3. Who are your mentors? How have they helped you?
My teachers in my school at La Martiniere’s, Lucknow and college at King George’s Medical College in Lucknow not only gave me book learning, they taught me the value of honesty, integrity and dedication.
Q4. If you were to give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be? Will the advice be different to your 30 year old self? If yes, what?
I would tell my 18 year old self to dedicate my efforts towards achieving excellence towards whatever line I have chosen, be it medical or technology or anything else.
To my 30 year old self I would advise the following: widen your horizons, see the world, go beyond your areas of expertise, find out where is the need and fulfill it, and have the courage to live your dreams.
Q5. What advice would you like to give to students and young professionals?
To students and young professionals I would say, to do your work diligently and with thorough professionalism and absolute honesty. At the same time I would recommend that they move beyond their comfort zone and step out into the real world and see how they can contribute.”