2021 Ideal Village Conference at Stanford focuses on healthcare, opportunities

Ritu Jha-

At the 6th annual Ideal Village Conference, built around the theme “Post-Pandemic Normal – The Path Forward,” Dr. Catharina Boehme(above left), Chef de Cabinet at World Health Organization, Geneva stressed the need for vaccination in third world countries. Boehme, who was the conference opening keynote speaker highlighted the increasing divide between the wealthy and the poor said, “It(pandemic) has revealed the importance of the holistic approach.”

Held in collaboration with Science for Society (S4S) Stanford University virtually on September 29 and 30, brought in experts and leading authorities from international agencies, research institutes, the tech industry, non-profit foundations, spiritual leaders and academia to address specific challenges, lessons learned, and viable solutions for the future.

During her keynote, Boehme said: “For sure, the global vaccination rate is encouraging. The fact is that almost 80% of vaccines have been administered to those living in higher and upper-middle-income countries. But if you live in a village in Africa today, you have a very scanty chance of getting vaccinated, of the 5.7 billion doses of vaccines administered only 2% have been administered in Africa. While 66% of people in high-income countries have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Together with the heads of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization has called for a massive global push to vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by end of this month, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% coverage by mid-next year.

Dr Sunny Anand(above right), the co-founder of the Ideal Village Conference, who believes in the ancient Vedic phrase “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” which means “the world is one family,” says naturally, the conference focuses on bringing everyone together to consider the basic needs of villagers, such as water, sanitation, healthcare, education, energy and livelihood.

Talking with indica News, Anand, who is also a professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in California shared about hosting the conference and the corporate responsibility post-pandemic.

“We’re not concerned with any one particular region, community or type of village,” he said. “We are concerned with the villages in the entire world. That’s why we invited people who have a similar global outlook.”

Asked if he was satisfied with how companies spent their funds marked for Corporate Social Responsibility, Anand said, “Definitely not. If you look at the World Economic Outlook during the pandemic, in the 18 months since the pandemic started in March last year, the wealth of the billionaires has grown by $4 trillion.

In the meantime, the wealth at the lowest rungs, the most disadvantaged people have shrunk. More than 31 million more people have been pushed into extreme poverty, which is, you know, defined as less than one, $1.90 per day subsistence. These figures came out from the Gates Foundation.” Clearly, he said, companies and the capitalist market economy had not done right by the people, and had stuck to making profits to the detriment of the weaker sections of society?

“I’m not saying the corporates are bad, but the real CSR (corporate social responsibility funds) … didn’t work in a strategic way.”

One of the prominent discussions involved Sunil Wadhwani of the WISH Foundation, who discussed the need to transform primary healthcare in developing countries through innovation.

Wadhwani, an Indian American billionaire philanthropist, said that the pandemic was an existential threat of such proportions that everyone had to take a step back to re-think societal priorities.

“The pandemic has given us the time to charter a new path to create a post-pandemic world that is more equitable, environmentally cleaner, with improved work-life-family-nature balance,” he said.

Wadhani said, “If we look back over the last 20 years and we look beyond the pandemic, we look at how healthcare has progressed, especially in developing countries. We’ve come a long way, infant mortality rates have been cut in half, maternal mortality rates have come down dramatically, access to quality care has gone up substantially. So a lot of good progress is being made.”

He noted how even in remote areas in countries like India, the government has taken several measures to bring a change. However, India being a densely populated country there is “much more to be done,” he said, pointing out how, even after all this development, “over 700 million people do not have access to decent quality primary health care.”

Wadhwani put that down to the shortage of healthcare personnel in low-income areas, including rural locations or urban slums. He said there was a dearth of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and medicines, and that what equipment was available did not often work.

He said developing countries needed not just better access and quality of primary health care, but also at a cost lower than being paid today.

“We are now running over 700 clinics in some of the border’s parts of India. We go to the lowest-income states – like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and so on,” he said.

Wadhwani’s WISH Foundation, started six years ago, aims to address large-scale issues in a holistic way, using innovation and technology. It partners with government agencies to impact large numbers of people, especially in low-income communities in developing countries. “We’re at an inflection point right now, as we’ve got the sustainable development goals that have to be met by 20-30 years from now,” he said. “We’re going to meet a lot of challenges to meet those goals, but we have the kind of innovation that can help us deliver. In addition, governments are now more open to working with civil society to working with the private sector, to implement and to scale these new innovative models.”

Dr. David Cornsweet, the president of Divine Will Foundation and the coordinator of the Sai Global Federation of Foundations, focused on the need for health care in rural areas in India.

He said this was urgent, given that about 70 percent of India’s population lived in the villages, while 80 percent of all health care facilities, medical manpower and support services – such as labs and imaging services – are concentrated in urban areas where the remaining 30 percent of the population lives.

Cornsweet said that despite having one of the largest medical school systems in the world with an annual intake of over 50,000 students, very few doctors work in rural areas have the over 25,000 primary health care centers called PHCS which serve the rural areas, more than 8 percent of them don’t even have one doctor, 38 percent don’t have a lab or lab technician, and 22 percent don’t have a pharmacy, imaging services. Even services as basic as X rays are rare, and emergency services are virtually nonexistent, he said.

Cornsweet described how learning of lack of beds and oxygen during the pandemic led his group to establish 25 more ICU beds at Sri Sathya Sai Sarla Memorial Hospital, with plans to increase the number.

He said, “We quickly realized that the idea of a total of 150 beds was impractical. Now, this hospital will provide 300 beds, all with oxygen and state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. 150 of these beds are already available, supported by a full laboratory, a blood bank or pharmacy and service by a fully equipped ambulance service with paramedics.” The plan was to provide a 24-hour, seven days a week, emergency room to deal with the pandemic.

Dr. Raj Shah of WHEELS Global Foundation spoke about “Telemedicine solutions during the pandemic and the path forward.” He, too, felt the pandemic obviously brought to focus a need for alternate means of delivery of health services, mainly in villages. He said the challenge is to not find doctors in villages because once trained, they migrate to urban or suburban areas to practice. The solution he saw was to rely on remote health care, using the best cost-effective technology.

Anand spoke about the need to rely on spiritual leaders to stop the spread of false rumors about the side effects of vaccines.

Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, gave a keynote speech about “Thriving in the post-pandemic era – emerging from lockdowns, loneliness, isolation.” He said the biggest challenge in the world is mental health, adding that suicide rates have gone up.

He made a request of the attendees: “When you walk around and see a drooping face, do not just pass by. Just take a few seconds to ask them how they are doing. These simple gestures can uplift the human spirit to some extent.”

He said that for today’s youth, especially those between 18 and 30, there’s a lot of oppression on one side and depression on the other. To get out of these two extreme behavioral tendencies, he said, we need to turn inwards.

Another India-based speaker, Sri M of The Satsang Foundation, spoke on “The Village Story – lessons for the post-pandemic world.”

“Many of us who dwell in urban cities, skyscrapers and multi-story structures, going every day to the office and coming back, the buses and car traffic, we should remember from the standpoint of India that most of our population lives in villages,” he said. “We need to bring the concept of villages to the urban areas, where small communities look after each other. While many people in villages lived in poverty, they looked much more content with life compared to people living in urban areas.”

Sadguru Sri Madhusudan Sai spoke about the “Importance of the Inner Journey, a pandemic that enabled an opportunity to seek within,” said, “Man’s adversity is God’s opportunity. On the surface it looks like adversity, it truly has turned out to be an opportunity in various ways.