Rahul Gandhi is a Wellington Hospital doctor training to be a specialist physician. He has an MBA from Oxford University and a Master of Public Health from Harvard. He is also a former Innovation Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital's Healthcare Transformation Lab and has been an advisor to Pallium India, an organisation bringing pain relief to Indian states through advocacy, education, and healthcare delivery.
“I am trying to be a solver of wicked problems in healthcare,” says Dr Rahul Gandhi. “My desire is to bring together the innovation-at-scale principle of private enterprise and the equitable nature of public healthcare.”
While a student at the University of Auckland’s Medical School between 2005 and 2009, Rahul took part in Velocity (then called Spark), the student entrepreneurship programme. It was an awakening to the potential of innovation and entrepreneurship that has had a huge impact on Rahul’s career.
And then theory met practice when he was doing an internship at a busy hospital in a low-income country.
“I had to shut the door on a screaming child in a hospital for lack of morphine. Walking away, it hit me that I understood pain at a molecular level, and yet myself and the entire establishment were unable to fix a supply-chain issue that didn’t allow for a cheap drug like morphine to become available to this kid. I had spent eight years at university and ostensibly was powerless.
“This feeling came back to me whilst holding the hand of a dying 26-year-old in Whangarei Hospital who had rheumatic heart disease, a preventable illness in New Zealand.”
For Rahul these are examples of wicked problems that do not have a singular cause, and are often incompletely characterised, difficult to detect and have large consequences across sectors.
“More than once I have had to walk away from a medical tragedy for lack of infrastructure, resources and things that were ‘out of my control’. The feeling of sheer helplessness was overpowering.”
It was these experiences that encouraged Rahul to pursue an MBA at Oxford and a Master of Public Health at Harvard. In his role as Innovation Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Rahul worked on developing a cost-effective solution for optimising rheumatic heart valve disease screening in East Timorese school children. He says the global economic repercussions of rheumatic heart valve disease complications are in the trillions annually. Now, the clinical trial for the solution Rahul and his colleagues have developed is underway.
He says having an entrepreneurial mindset also involves flexibility and pragmatism, and points to the case study of a failed partnership begun on behalf of a multilateral agency to fight AIDS, TB, and malaria that he was analysing a couple of years ago. A multinational alcohol company was interested in supporting the work but sparked a very public backlash and the partnership was severed.
“Consider though that one can get a bottle of beer in a war zone but not a cholera vaccine. So potentially leveraging existing supply chains that the beer company had built to deliver vaccines would be far more efficient than creating new ones. Is there a way for instance to collaborate but not endorse?”
In New Zealand, Rahul points to children in Tairāwhiti and Northland still suffering from rheumatic heart disease. “If it were an Epsom problem, it would’ve been fixed ages ago. There is little doubt that healthcare is inequitable even in our own backyard. Medicine and management have been siloed fields traditionally, but this viewpoint needs to be challenged.”
In addition to his clinical role Rahul is currently a medical advisor for Even, an exciting start-up bringing healthcare to India. The company has been funded by Khosla Ventures and promises to revolutionise health delivery.
If Rahul has learnt anything in his career he says it is that “you can be a healthcare professional and a social entrepreneur, an activist and whatever else you want. There will be plenty of detractors, but don’t be disheartened. Find your tribe”.