Over the last 30 years, Dr. Sudarshan has been pushing the boundaries of health care systems, making them work effectively for the poorest and most marginalized communities. Combining strong grassroots interventions with effective advocacy, he is realizing access to health-care for all.
Sudarshan started out by addressing the curative health needs of the Soliga community in the remote BR Hills in Karnataka. Over the course of time, he realized that the curative approach alone was insufficient to respond to the mounting health issues of the tribe. With tribal communities increasingly unaware of their own practices, even as they fall behind in education, and livelihood, they could never fully address the low health indicators in the area. Sudarshan saw traditional tribal knowledge, and the community’s interdependence with the forest for nutrition and livelihoods as critical towards improving their health and well-being.
In response, Sudarshan pioneered an integrated system of preventive health care, addressing the health, education and livelihood needs of the community. Between the 1980s and 1990s, he set up a fully equipped health centre, a school, a junior college, and a vocational training centre so that the community is fully equipped towards solving their own health problems. Further, through grassroots advocacy, he won forest rights for the Soliga tribes, so that they can remain in control of the forest and its produce, and consequently their livelihood and nutrition sources. Today, the Soliga tribe has become self-sufficient, across health, education and livelihood indicators. Having seen success, he is now replicating this model in Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh for the Idu Mishimi tribe.
Sudarshan’s experiences with local health systems allowed him to see the importance of strong government health infrastructure, particularly the Primary Health Centre (PHC), to improve the quality of care for rural populations. Seeing the need to work with the government towards improving the status of PHCs in the country, he advocated for and secured the first public private partnership (PPP) to address primary health care across Karnataka. He set up Karuna Trust, to demonstrate that with better management it is possible to have better health outcomes on the same, if not lower budgets as allocated by the government. In this way, he successfully improved health outcomes in Karnataka, particularly in some of the most marginalized sections of the state. The success of this model elicited interest from Orissa, several states of the North-East and in some parts of Andhra Pradesh. Today PPPs have become a defacto method for NGOs to work with, and to demonstrate innovations to the government.
Sudarshan is now successfully managing close to 70 PHCs in the country, and is turning his attention towards the quality and range of services offered by them. He is particularly looking to include vision and eye care, mental health and the use of traditional and local medicines within their mandate.
By using health as an entry-point, Sudarshan is addressing questions of equity, governance and access within different communities across the country. He has been closely involved in building community monitoring systems to ensure quality and comprehensive health services for local and rural communities through the National Rural Health Mission. At the state level, he has been addressing the availability of health insurance for the poor and very poor through the Vajpayee Arogyasree scheme. At the same time, he has been directing his efforts at addressing the issue of corruption in health systems in India. He served a stint as the Vigilance officer in Karnataka, in which time he ensured that good governance became a part of the ethical framework of the Karnataka Health Services. Through his work with different health committees and task forces, Sudarshan continues to advance his vision for an equitable health environment in the country.
*Note: This profile was updated February 2014. Read on for the ELECTION Profile