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New Memorandums and Alliances Highlight 24th Annual AAPI Convention

August 2006
New Memorandums and Alliances Highlight 24th Annual AAPI Convention

Keeping with tradition, this venerable association of physicians of Indian origin was able to line up an impressive list of dignitaries including the Mayor, the Governor, Indian Ministers, Statesmen, and well known artists and entertainers.

Home to CNN, hip-hop, and celebrity doctor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Atlanta recently hosted the 24th Annual Convention of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), whose members range from physicians and researchers to professors and medical students, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel from June 28 to July 2.

More than 2000 participants, with their spouses and children in tow, converged at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for myriad purposes. As incoming President Dr. S. Balasubramaniam noted, "AAPI is for learning, service, advocacy, support and fellowship."

The five-day convention kicked off with Dr. Malathi Koli lighting the ritual lamp, honor of Lord Ganesha which was followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Dr. Vijay Koli as well as a Kuchipudi dance performance by the students of Sasikala Penmurthi. and a Bharatnatyam performance by the students of Arathi School of Indian Dance.

Dr Vijay Koli, the current AAPI president, briefly outlined some of the important events that had taken place in the year of his leadership, including the AAPI elections, CME courses being conducted in Russia, Mexico and India, and a trip to Pakistan at the invitation of Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA).

He also noted with satisfaction the landmark MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed with the Government of India to help improve primary care in India, starting with pilot programs in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.

Thursday, June 29, saw Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and Dr. Ambumani Ramadoss, Indian Minister of Health and Social Welfare, grace the occasion as the guests of honor. Governor Perdue appreciated the services of the doctors from the Indian diaspora and said, "We are a growing state and need a lot of help in the medical field. We welcome the physicians. Please come to Georgia." He noted that Georgia was ranked sixth among the fasted growing States in the Union, and could offer many opportunities for growth.

Minister Ramadoss, India's youngest cabinet minister at 37 and a medical graduate from the University of Chennai, pointed out that that India was facing the problem of tackling dreaded diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. With the rapid growth of India's biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and "tens of thousands" of patients coming to India for treatment, Ramadoss repeatedly urged the crowd to consider a return to India saying, "We (India) need your support."

Indian Minister of Overseas Affairs Ravi Vayalar, Ambassador Ronen Sen, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and prominent Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young, Congressman Toni Price, and the charismatic Dr Sanjay Gupta were the distinguished guests on Saturday July 1.

Andrew Young urges doctors to draw on India's traditional and spiritual learning

Civil rights icon, Andrew Young, who marched alongside the late Martin Luther King, enthralled audiences with his surprise and unscheduled speech. A man whose list of accomplishments feature being the former mayor of Atlanta, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, congressman, and Co-chair of the 1996 Olympic Games, received roaring applause when he declared, "If not for the influence of India, Atlanta would not be like it is."

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Young recognized the efforts of the Mahatma in shaping the civil rights movement in the United States when he stated that, "Had we not learnt from Mahatma Gandhi that men and women should learn to live together as brother and sisters or they will perish together as fools, and had we not taken those teachings to heart, we would not have produced a Martin Luther King, we would not have produced a Jimmy Carter."

Young also had the Atlantans in the audience cheering when he regretted that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, was not host to Air India and added that, "if Air India decided to put daily flights into Atlanta, we, along with you, would fill them up everyday."

Finally, Young challenged the physicians in the room, to draw on India's traditional and spiritual learning and teach the practitioners of Western medicine that medicine was so much more than just biology and chemistry, and that medicine brings with it a healing of the spirit. As Young pointed out to all present, "I don't think our medicine is working. I think we're spending more money, we've got more contraptions, and yet I don't see people living much longer and they are certainly not living much better!"

Ambassador Ronen Sen takes on critics of outsourcing

Ronen Sen, India's Ambassador to the United States, took on the critics of outsourcing when he pointed out that Indian physicians in the US, provide not only quality healthcare to thousand of American annually, but are also worth billions of dollars to this country.

Sen pointed out that critics of outsourcing were ignoring recent acquisitions of US firms by Indian companies and further noted that an Indian company had recently acquired seven call centers and "had increased the number of workers in the United States in these call centers," adding that, "I didn't read a single line, also, when an Indian company outsourced to IBM a $650 million contract."

Pointing out that the Indo-US relationship, like any other good relationship, was based on mutual benefit, and shared and abiding values and aspirations, Sen urged those present to not only be proud Americans, but also be proud of their Indian heritage.

Atlanta's own charismatic doctor and CNN medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in turn pointed out that AAPI and Indian American physicians in general, have done something" truly remarkable, truly unique."A poster boy for Indian American doctors in the US, Gupta lauded first generation Indian American doctors, and remarked that, "Look at any hospital or healthcare organization in America today, Indian doctors are representing us well," adding that "without us, they [American doctors] couldn't operate."

Memorandum between AAPI and Indian government highlighted

India's Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Vayalar Ravi, one of the speakers foresaw a tremendous boost to primary healthcare in rural India due to the recent partnership between AAPI and his ministry.

The partnership which became a reality at the convention was the culmination of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between AAPI and the MOIA signed in January 2006. Ravi noted that, "AAPI is very committed and I can see that they want to do something tangible for India."

As a result of this MOU, two pilot projects will be launched the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and as Ravi pointed out, "I am going to get other states to compete to get these projects to their states as well."

On his return to New Delhi, Ravi said that he would report to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about his discussion with AAPI regarding the implementation of the projects.

Ravi also pointed out to those present that the Indian government is of the opinion that that health care, rural development and population stabilization were inextricable linked and was an important aspect in the fight against HIV/AIDS, intrinsic to the pilot project in Andhra Pradesh. "You know Andhra has the largest number of AIDS patients, and it's a very dangerous situation and AAPI can help us alleviate this terrible situation."

In his closing remark, Ravi said that the MOU between the Indian Health Ministry and AAPI would "demonstrate the potential role that overseas Indian organizations can play in India's development and was a pioneering step toward building an institutional partnership to tap the vast knowledge resources of the overseas Indian community, especially in America."

Finally, congratulating AAPI and its members for their commitment to health care in the United States, Ravi said that with the pilot projects acting as model, he planned to "search for excellence in other areas among Indian Americans, like in engineering."

The rapport between the American Medical Association (AMA) and the AAPI was also clearly palpable. AMA's CEO Michael Maves couldn't stop recalling his recent visit to India to inaugurate the NRI Academy of Sciences in Bijuwada, established by former AAPI President Dr. Apparao Mukkamala. Maves even shared his visit with those present with a slideshow!

Dr Vijay Koli also announced several awards to some of the distinguished members of the AAPI for their contributions, services and accomplishments. Dr Raju Thonse received the Most Distinguished Physician Award. Dr Bhimsen Rao received an award for his outstanding charitable contributions in building two hospitals. The Outstanding Resident Award went to Dr Amit Shah. Dr Asit Shah and Dr Leena Philips were awarded the certificate of appreciation for donating bone marrow to patients and saving precious lives.

There were also some lectures and presentations on yoga and meditation during the convention. Two hours in the morning were dedicated to yoga and meditation and discourses by Paramahamsa Nityananda, who runs a foundation for the study and practice of yoga and meditation in Duarte, California.

Another thought-provoking event was the popular women's forum on "empowerment."

The presentation began with actress Nandita Das of Fire and Earth fame, who clearly enunciated her stand on feminism as she declared, "I would rather be humanist. But, as long as the position of the woman remains subservient and they are not taken care of, I will be a feminist. It has no sexual connotation." Other speakers on the panel were Sonal Shah, one of the founders of IndiaCorp, Deepika Bahari and Alka Roy.

Every evening of the convention ended with a thrilling entertainment program from raas garba and bhangra to an evening of Indi-pop music with Bollywood's own Sunidhi Chauhan. Lovers of Carnatic music were enthralled by the legendary Dr. Balamurli Krishna. There was also a fashion show by world class designer Satya Paul, who displayed trendy outfits for all occasions.

Some of the other distinguished participants included Dr. Kiran Patel, Dr. Navin Nanda, Dr. Vidyasagar, Dr. Malathi Koli, etc., while the presentations spanned a wide range of topics?from the fine art and science of medical practice management, including the recent trend of outsourcing medical billing and transcription, to the selection of medical schools, residency programs and fellowships.

More than 100 booths displayed their merchandise on the exhibition floor of the hotel. There were pharmaceutical companies, financial planners, insurance companies, clothiers and jewelers. The participants, many dressed in traditional Indian couture also enjoyed a smorgasbord of food from Punjabi dishes to traditional South Indian staples such as dosa and idli-sambhar.

New President, Dr Balasubramaniam, noted at the end of the convention, "One of the biggest achievements of AAPI during this convention is the presence of high ranking Indian officials and ministers for giving a fresh push to the implementation stage of understanding between AAPI and the Indian government." In a brief message about the future, he observed that, "the best way to predict the future is to invent it," while applauding the collective efforts of AAPI physicians. Dr. Balasubramaniam finally pointed out that as more physicians join the fold of AAPI, the organization would gain strength and set standards of excellence in the field of health care, both in the United States and India.

- Ravi Ponangi and Archith Seshadhari

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