Dr. Nomal Chandra Borah

Neurologist and the founder of Guwahati Neurological Research Centre Limited (GNRC)

Recipient of multiple prestigious awards, he is also the managing trustee of Asian Institute of Nursing Education and also the owner of Medishop retail chain.

“You don’t lose until you quit. Be persuasive. Do not give up.” These are the words of Dr. Nomal Borah, a gifted doctor turned successful healthcare entrepreneur. This is the Limelight saga of a visionary who made entrepreneurship an instrument of national growth and development, long before the term had become a buzzword.

In the day of flashy funding and billion dollar unicorns, it bears special mention that Dr. Borah’s entrepreneurial journey started with just Rs 1, a loan ‘sanctioned’ by his father. The product was beedi (a local version of cigarette) and match boxes. The second standout feature of his ‘boyhood venture’ was that he made zero profit on his first transaction, a deliberate step in tribute of a belief he holds dear even today - that ‘Customer is God’, and that greed has no place in business, which is meant to be a pillar of an ethical society. The third factor that made Dr. Borah debut entrepreneurial journey memorable was that he duly returned the loan of one rupee to his father in exactly four weeks time – a shining example of punctuality, another trait modern business founders tend to consistently ignore.

These three incidents don’t just portray the depths of Dr. Borah’s stellar personality. They also point towards a template that – if adhered to - has the power to change not just the way we conduct business, but live our lives. It is a template of innovation, humane-ness and unwavering commitment that has helped Dr. Borah script his name alongside the immortals of healthcare.

The saga begins in 1980s when, moved by the plight of the people in North East India suffering from lack of access to quality healthcare, Dr. Borah decided to set up his own facility to provide the population healthcare and cure. His own capital of Rupees 5,000/-, unsecured loans from his friends and a term loan from the Bank of Baroda was harnessed eventually to bring to fruition the Guwahati Neurological Research Centre (GNRC) Hospital Dispur – which evolved from a clinic to North East India’s premier multi-specialty hospital.

During this period, Dr Borah’s entrepreneurial spirit and social consciousness was guided by Dr. K V Mathai, the legendary neurosurgeon from Vellore, who came forward to join Dr. Borah in his endeavour. In 1985, GNRC was converted into a Limited Company.
The entrepreneurial fire, of course, was far from over. Indeed, his appetite was merely whetted for greater milestones.

In 2004, Dr. Borah established Asian Institute of Nursing Education with the vision to provide quality education in nursing. The institute presently offers courses in BSC Nursing, Post Basic Nursing and MSC Nursing. In 2006, Dr. Borah established Medishop Retail Chain to facilitate employment for local youth. In 2008, Dr. Borah set up another facility of GNRC in Guwahati – GNRC Sixmile. It was inaugurated by a patient in presence of legendary singer Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Gyanpeeth awardee littérateur Dr. Mamoni Raisom Goswami and eminent journalist Mr. Homen Borgohain on February 3, 2008.

A successful healthcare entrepreneur’s attempt to serve the society which nurtured him

Concerned that most private healthcare facilities, including those set up by him, were unaffordable for the majority of the population, while public healthcare facilities were over-burdened, Dr. Borah initiated determined efforts to formulate a model that enabled access to quality, affordable healthcare for majority of the population. He conducted numerous conversations with members of the local communities, in the attempt to understand the challenges they face in accessing affordable, quality healthcare. These conversations led to the formulation of an operating and service delivery model, which found its expression in GNRC Institute of Medical Sciences, a 1200-bedded facility which commenced operations in early 2014 at North Guwahati. The salient features of this unique model are:

a. Community Health Workers called ‘Swasthya Mitra’ impart health education at community level and create health awareness amongst the masses.

b. Emphasis is given to keep the people healthy & disease free. Preventive health care is very much a part of the programme which covers both communicable & non communicable diseases.

c. Menace of tobacco, alcohol, & drugs and the need to avoid those are explained to the community.

d. Emphasis is on preventing catastrophic diseases like Stroke, Heart attack, CKD, Cancers & RTA.

e. Bringing down cost of healthcare through disruptive innovations and make it affordable to majority of the people.

f. All Accident & Emergency patients are catered to free of cost. That’s hardly all. Ambulance services, Doctors consultation, blood test, x-rays and ECGs are free. 38 different types of medicines & consumables are given free to the patients for the first 24 hrs. For OPD patients the hospital provides free guidance from Swasthya Mitra, free transport services to and fro from the hospital and free doctor’s consultation. High cost investigations are performed at a nominal cost – for instance, CT Brain at INR 900, MRI Brain at INR 2500, and Coronary Angiography at INR5000. Surgeries are performed at a third of the market rate.

g. Most of the hospital items like beds & OT tables are produced indigenously by the hospital itself to help economize costs even further. .

h. To address the problem of poverty, GNRC undertakes innovative income-generating schemes for the poor people whereby it provides assured guaranteed income of INR 10,000 per family every month - along with health insurance which does not come within the preview of schemes like PMJAY. Wherever possible, the hospital works in tandem with Govt sponsored schemes like PMJAY.

i. The model is not just profitable and economically sustainable - it has so far touched the lives of over a million people.

The man a number of awards and achievements to his name, including Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology for contribution to neurological services (2003), Certificate of Honor from the State Bank of India for services of the highest standard rendered in the development of medical facilities for the welfare of the people of the Northeastern India (2004), East Chamber of Commerce and Industry for service to society through individual excellence (2005), Certificate of honour from Sadou Assam Sutiya Jati Sanmilan (2005) and others.

Like all true pioneers, Dr. Borah has his share of admiring fans. On the occasion of the launch of a book written by Dr. Borah, this is what eminent journalist, litterateur and intellectual Mr. Homen Borgohain had to say, “Dr. N.C. Borah has already received international recognition as a doctor as well as hospital administrator. His unique thoughts and works have already drawn the attention of World Bank. Besides being a great doctor, he is also an accomplished writer on health care. He is the only Assamese medical scientist who digs deep and writes about various important issues such as how an ideal doctor should be, how should be the relationship between a doctor and a patient, the role of religious and spiritual thinking in health care and factors which have the maximum impact on a patient’s mind,” he said. For him, health care is not a profession; rather it is his natural calling, he added.

The standard temptation is to stick to urban habitats – such as cities and towns – to maximize purely business goals. Not many players in the organised space have set up the centres in the hinterland for two reasons. The primary roadblock comes form of a huge dearth of MD Pathologists. Consider this: There are less than 11,000 MD- Pathologists/ Bio Chemists/ Micro-Biologists and more than 110,000 Labs in India today.. This is where Sanjeev’s mission raises its sights a notch and hits ‘noble mode’: That of taking the healing touch of good health and wellness to the farthest corners of the country.

Taking on a menace to mankind: Strategically and sustainably

Ignorance, ill health and poverty are the biggest enemy of mankind. It increases social inequality and disrupts peace & harmony in the society. Dr. Borah and his team at GNRC has challenged this menace of mankind by developing a sustainable health care delivery model which addresses the issues of awareness, prevention, affordable treatment and economic empowerment of the financially weaker sections of the society. The model – an outcome of sheer hard work, dedication, determination, courage & conviction - will require continuous research and innovation to meet the current & future aspirations of the people.

As always, Dr. Borah and his team is ready for the challenge.


*This story is published by VOH Team*

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