Three decades of excellent service. From a single clinic at crowded Bur Dubai to operations in nine countries. Almost 20,000 staff providing medical service to thousands of people at 316 establishments. Dr Azad Moopen’s story is interlinked with Dubai’s growth as a world class city with first class amenities. Asian Lite’s Hafeez Mohammed meets Dr. Azad Moopen Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare.
Aster is completing 30 years. What is your greatest achievement in the first three decades of Aster?
From a single clinic to an international healthcare services provider with a presence in nine countries, we have come a long way and done ourselves proud. But a matter of greater pride is that despite our growth and international positioning, we have not lost sight of our mission. We are always striving to make quality healthcare accessible to people from all walks of life. In order to serve the healthcare requirements of all segments of society, our services today range from premium care to specialty services to affordable treatment. Through a wide-reaching network of hospitals, clinics, retail pharmacies and specialised healthcare professionals, Aster DM Healthcare constantly seeks to innovate and introduce best practices with the intent of shape a healthier society.
In addition, we are investing considerable efforts in championing the role of technology in healthcare research and innovation to deliver technological solutions which can meet the requirements of fast paced lives. These extend to chronic care monitoring at home, online pharmacy, home-nursing facilities and doctors on call, which are new concepts in the region. We continue to expand our research and innovation capabilities, in order to deliver solutions to meet the needs of our patients.
How will you celebrate your 30 years of service to people spread over 9 countries?
We have a robust Aster@30 campaign running across all countries in which we operate. But its impact goes beyond the 9 countries in which we have a presence. It undertakes a huge task of mobilising people to reach out across boundaries to those affected by disaster and humanitarian crises.
In line with the declaration of 2017 as the Year of Giving by UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, we launched Aster Volunteers – a global initiative that aims to connect those in need with volunteers who are willing to provide a helping hand. The volunteers come from all walks of life and need not be medically qualified.
Aster Volunteers has been addressing some of the key challenges faced by communities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa with the aim providing free healthcare support alongside basic care and necessities. The multi-layered programme has received an overwhelming response with 7,900 volunteers across geographies. Prompted by this success, we are resolved to take it forward into the years to come as a key pillar to give back to the communities we serve every day.
The Aster Volunteer programme has provided more than 700 free surgeries and 9,000 free investigations and treatments for patients in need. Throughout the year, free health check-ups were conducted for more than 45,000 people in a range of specialities including Orthopedics, Gynecology, General Medicine and others.
Aster’s in-house doctors, nurses and mobile clinics as well as volunteers from Dubai have taken part in disaster and refugee management in Somalia, Jordan and Bangladesh.
With the aim of providing equal employment opportunities, the Aster Volunteers ‘differently-abled’ programme this year committed to recruiting 100 differently-abled candidates, and has seen 52 differently-abled people recruited into the Aster work force to date.
Aster also partnered with local, government and multinational organizations and institutions to train people in Basic Life Support (BLS) techniques to equip them to help a loved one in an emergency situation. More than 95,000 people have already attended the sessions and these will continue in 2018 and 2019 in order to reach the goal of training 300,000 participants.
Currently Aster is helping drive and facilitate the donation of 30,000 units of blood in the countries it operates in. The company frequently organizes blood donation drives to encourage voluntary blood donors and raise awareness about the importance of regular blood donation.
Where do you want to see Aster by 2020?
We are at an exciting stage of growth and transformation in the healthcare industry which is a priority sector for public and private enterprises across the Middle East. Increasing efforts to improve access to healthcare through encouraging insurance coverage for all will continue to drive affordability and quality standards of care. At the same time, there is great potential for use of technology in integrated healthcare offering which will improve accessibility and reduce costs.
The UAE Vision 2021, which aims to achieve a world-class healthcare system, is catalyst for the development of the sector. The 10 national key performance indicators dictated by Vision 2021 will address the most pressing health issues in the country, such as cardiovascular disease and the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the local population.
Aster DM Healthcare is proud to play a role in supporting the UAE achieve those objectives by further expanding our network by launching new facilities and attracting qualified talents, and enforcing best practice in our hospitals and clinic.
We encourage our entire organization to stay ahead of the curve through constant awareness of the evolving needs of our patients and drive innovations which can improve access to quality and affordable care. We are moving away from the traditional reactive intervention to more personalized and technology driven, proactive measures of health management. This is supported by our business expansion plans across geographies, through acquisitions, new market entries and launch of new service facilities.
Did you ever think when you elected to provide a service in medicine that would become a brand? Was there any specific inspiration or incident that moved you in this direction?
It’s been 30 years since I moved to the UAE and started a single physician clinic. I had been a medical lecturer in India and this seemed like the right move for my career. At that time, I had no plans to settle down in the region. In fact, I thought I’d work for a couple of years in UAE and go back home to India.
In the late 1980s, the healthcare infrastructure in the region was still very basic. There were government hospitals providing primary and secondary care, with minimal available tertiary care. As a doctor, I strongly believe in everyone’s right to proper healthcare. However, it was a ‘happy accident’ that led me to set up the first clinic in Bur Dubai and eventually settling down in the region. Seeing an opportunity to help meet the local need for personalized medical care, I set up my first clinic in Bur Dubai called the Al Rafa Polyclinic in Bur Dubai – now renamed as Aster Jubilee Medical Complex. From then on there was no looking back. As the UAE economy began to grow and places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi staked their claim as international cities attracting business, investment, talent and tourists, the demand for quality healthcare increased.
Over the years, Aster DM Healthcare has grown into a healthcare conglomerate, with 316 operating facilities across 9 countries in the Middle East, India and Philippines; including 18 hospitals, 96 clinics and 202 retail pharmacies as on March 31, 2017.
What do you have in mind for further improving your medical edifice in terms of specialised services?
I believe and strive towards building an institution of excellence that is synonymous with quality, affordable and accessible healthcare. With a desire to extend this to people from all strata of society, the business has expanded through three brands: [Aster (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary care with the latest technology), Medcare (premium offering), Access (affordable and quality healthcare) and latest acquisition Harley Street Medical Centre (niche specialty offering).
The past decade has seen us expanding our services in the GCC, with the launch of new medical centres and acquisition of existing facilities. We introduced Aster Medical facilities in Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and new centres in UAE to enable easier access to care. New hospitals have been launched in UAE, and Qatar, in addition to expansion of the Aster pharmacy chain. This is in alignment with the vision of the regional governments, to continue to prioritize healthcare as one of the core indicators driving the growth index.
We currently own and operate four hospitals in Kerala, two hospitals in Telangana, three hospitals in Andhra Pradesh and one each in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Whose advice do you take most seriously before arriving at a decision?
I would say that our strength lies in working together as a group of self-motivated professionals with passion and entrepreneurial spirit. Every major decision is a culmination of the efforts put in by a dedicated team of individuals who have deep knowledge of the industry and the work we do. The stronger our teams, the better results we can deliver to our patients and the society that we serve.
The turning point in life
Moving from India to the UAE was a milestone that changed my life forever. From a medical professor to a practicing doctor to an entrepreneur, it has been a momentous journey of 30 years.
You are involved in many community programmes and charity activities. Would like to share some initiatives?
We are true to our promise of “We’ll Treat You Well”. This is a commitment not just to our patients but to the entire society. We believe in going beyond the scope of business and giving back to the communities we serve.
Over the years, we have launched various projects like Free Dialysis Centers to help patients in need, Health & Safety Awareness Program like “Aster Safe Roads”, “Save Little Hearts Programme” to help children in need of cardiac surgery but without financial means, Early Diseases Detection Centers & Cancer Screening Programmes, etc. Our aim is to support the underprivileged communities in specified geographies to uplift the lives and health of the population. The Aster Mobile Clinic is one such unique initiative that has been introduced in UAE to provide free health support to the society under “Doctor on Wheels”.
Dr. Moopen’s Family Foundation and the Aster DM Foundation are not-for-profit foundations providing healthcare services to unprivileged and marginalized communities across the GCC, India and Philippines.
In addition, we have the Aster Volunteers programme as part of our Aster@30 anniversary celebrations that will contribute to our long-term platform for giving back to society.
How do you manage your work-Life balance?
As a doctor, my first duty is to serve. I have reached a point in my life when this service extends from my patients to my employees, to the community as a whole. And all the while, I have a parallel duty to my family – my wife and three daughters and my grandchildren. Despite how busy life gets, I believe it is always necessary to balance out our roles, giving adequate time for self, family, profession and social commitments.
As UAE celebrates 46 the National Day, what is your take on UAE’s wise leadership and good leadership? How the country fuelled your dreams?
Throughout our growth over three decades, our greatest inspiration has been the vision of the great leaders of the nation who have continuously raised the bar for development across every sector – be it finance, construction or healthcare. As we look back at the past few decades, we are proud that Aster DM Healthcare has been an important contributor to the development of the healthcare sector and will continue to do so.
As we celebrate the UAE’s 46th National Day, Aster DM Healthcare remembers the great leaders who shaped the destiny of the country and took it from strength to strength. On this occasion, we salute their foresightedness and dedicate ourselves to bringing advanced healthcare within the reach of every person in the UAE.
UAE is going to mark 2018 as Year of Zayed. You saw the progress of UAE under his good governance. What is take on Year of Zayed?
The late Shaikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE was a visionary and a pioneer. He united the seven Emirates into a well-knit country and built the foundation for an oasis of peace and prosperity in the midst of the desert welcoming people from other countries to be part of this.
It is the duty of every one of us who are enjoying the fruits of his labour in this great nation to pay him tribute for his vision and foresight.
Your advise to new gen medical professionals
Be open to life-long learning! Science and technology are changing rapidly and you need to keep up. Do not be afraid to address your knowledge gaps, and seek to fill them. Be conscientious, competent and compassionate in everything you do. Continual learning is integral to what we do! Never underestimate the impact you can make in the world of science. You have the power to make a real difference to the lives of individual patients, families and communities.
As a successful professional turned businessman, what is your advise to a professional who want to become an entrepreneur?
Believing in your dreams and your ability to achieve them is definitely a major factor in realizing success. In addition, perseverance and tenacity, coupled with the ability to move swiftly to capture market opportunities, are paramount to achieving best results. With the evolving business environment, I would recommend the following tips:
- Must look at the shift of variable mix of indigenous and expat population.
- Focus on giving more jobs to the local population and to get more of them trained.
- Consider human resource as most important challenge in healthcare and find methods to get capable people.
- Keep plans flexible anticipating change in market matrix.