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Operation ASHA: Started with the aim to eradicate tuberculosis by delivering treatment and counselling services at the doorsteps of the patients, OpASHA has added many more diseases now


“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”– Mahatma Gandhi.

Led by their vision to improve the health of the disadvantaged communities and eradicate tuberculosis (TB) by its roots, in 2005 Dr. Shelly Batra and Sandeep Ahuja joined hands for this noble cause. And today, they proudly manage Operation ASHA (OpASHA). Started with TB as its focus, OpASHA today, in terms of patients treated, is the biggest NGO in India and 3rd largest in the world, and provides high quality treatment also for hemophilia, diabetes and heart care now.

Started with one treatment center in India in 2006, OpASHA now offers TB treatment through more than 200 centers in India in 9 different states. They have also set up a country office in Cambodia that covers 6 provinces and 15% of its population. The model has been replicated in 5 other countries- Peru, Uganda, Kenya, Dominican Republic, and Afghanistan. Replication in many other countries will take place soon.

…and this is how Operation ASHA came into being
Brainchild of Dr. Shelly Batra and Sandeep Ahuja, a doctor and a former government official were unlikely partners, but in 1998 they teamed up to finance Dr. Batra’s free treatment and surgeries for patients who came to her, unable to afford life-saving procedures. An Obs and Gynae surgeon, Batra worked out of her house or Delhi’s Batra Hospital and performed countless life-saving operations and infant deliveries for free to disadvantaged patients. Then the only obstacle for her was funding the incidentals like antiseptics, fluids and anesthetics necessary to carry out these operations. She called her friends and family to ask for donations, but her most regular contributor after 1998 was Sandeep Ahuja.

In 2006, Batra and Ahuja founded Operation ASHA and decided to focus their fledgling organization to develop a pipeline to pump in services and products to the most disadvantaged. They decided to focus on a single issue till the pipeline became fully reliable. This issue was the eradication of tuberculosis (TB). Their vision attracted people to join from around the world, and an advisory and fundraising group grew in the US to form Operation ASHA, USA.

Areas of work
Since its inception, Operation ASHA has engaged in the following areas of work:

  • Delivery of TB treatment and counselling services to offer psychosocial support to the patients and their families.
  • Detection, management, awareness building for diabetes and cardio-vascular disorders.
  • Partnering with micro-entrepreneurs to set up OpASHA centres, thereby providing an opportunity to increase their income.
  • Vocational training to TB patients to support their family income.
  • Active case finding, awareness generation, detection, treatment support and management of a genetic disorder amongst children – Haemophilia.

Making a difference through unique style of approach
Known for its unique methodology, Operation ASHA’s work involves all kinds of innovations, unlike any other NGO working anywhere in the world in any area and that’s how they differentiate themselves from others. Their service provider is not a doctor, but a community health worker hired from the local area and trained to work on the frontline, with necessary support from a doctor. This dramatically reduces the cost of treatment. They have non-descript clinics without signs that mention TB to reduce social stigma, which makes it safer, particularly for women, to seek treatment and have also identified ways to increase treatment compliance by using technology, for a disease that is traditionally difficult to treat. All of this is achieved at a cost 42 times lesser than most other NGO.

Benefitting the needy is their mantra
Operation ASHA’s most important clients are their beneficiaries whom they serve – people living at the bottom of the pyramid in the most disadvantageous conditions. Their target area ranges from mountainous terrains, far flung rural and tribal areas to urban slums and even conflict ridden zones or Maoist affected areas.

They have tie ups with the local governments of the districts/ states or countries where they work. In some cases, replication happens through third parties. They have also licensed their technology to pharmaceutical companies like Baxter for use in management of diseases other than TB – like Haemophilia. Recently they have partnered with Qualcomm Wireless Reach to move their entire training module and patient counseling to remote video based skype interactions.

Knowing the Master Mind
Dr. Shelly Batra, President and Co-Founder – Shelly’s dedication to reaching the unreached started in 1982, when she joined KGMC as a medical student. After graduating, Shelly provided pro-bono life-saving treatments and operations as well as free consultations, medicines and counseling. She is 2014’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year, awarded by Schwab Foundation, renowned Senior Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Advanced Laparoscopy Surgeon, an Ashoka Changemaker and a best-selling Penguin author. Well that’s not it, She has also contributed heavily through various media channels, such as television stations and newspapers, to impart medical knowledge and create awareness.

Sandeep Ahuja, CEO and Co-Founder – As CEO, Sandeep has led the organization since 2006. His sharp business acumen has earned praise and created a cost-effective method of delivering high quality medical services to the disadvantaged. He was member of the Board of the Stop TB Partnership from 2009-12 where he represented NGOs of developing countries.

Before founding Operation ASHA, Sandeep served for many years in the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) for the Government of India. He then travelled to the U.S., where he earned a masters degree in public policy at the University of Chicago and a Certificate in Health Policy & Administration. During his tenure at the University of Chicago, he was awarded the Harris Fellowship and selected as a McCormick Tribune Community Leadership Fellow. Sandeep has also taught a short course at the University of Chicago. He is a Member of Advisory Board at GlobeMed, University of Chicago, an External Student Advisor for Dartmouth College, US and a member of the HealthRise Country Advisory Committee of Medtronic Philanthropy. He has delivered lectures at most leading universities in the US and India and is a winner of University of Chicago’s Public Service Award.

“Benefit of eCompliance is not limited to tuberculosis alone. There are other medical issues where the largest challenge to success is ensuring patient follow-up, particularly in resource-scarce settings. Other opportunities include ensuring delivery of consistent antenatal care to pregnant women, recording childhood vaccinations, and aiding prevention or HIV transmission from mother to child. eCompliance may be just be the assistant that overworked doctors and health workers in disadvantaged areas need to easily, efficiently, and successfully care for all of their at-risk-patients, including in the United States.” – Dr. Yanis Ben Amor, Director of Tropical Laboratory Initiative, Earth Institute, Columbia University, Tuberculosis Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project, mentioned upon successful replication of treatment model in Rural Uganda.

“Expand access to services and products of a high quality at affordable prices to disadvantaged communities worldwide with a focus on delivery of health services. We do this by providing the last mile connectivity, i.e. service delivery at the doorsteps of the under-served.”