Dubai For a man who runs a Dh3.6 billion healthcare empire with over 19,000 employees and 316 establishments in nine countries, Dr Azad Moopen is very composed. “I believe in the ‘power of now’,” the Dubai-based chairman of Aster DM Healthcare tells XPRESS in an interview ahead of the group’s 30th anniversary gala on December 11.
As the 64-year-old talks about Eckhart Tolle’s bestseller with the same phrase as its title, he lets on that his ability to prioritise and remain focused on what is important at a given point of time holds him in good stead.
One of seven siblings born into a land-owning family in India’s Kerala, he recalls how he had the rare privilege of choosing his name when he was five. “My uncle was getting me enrolled into school when I found myself telling the headmaster my name was Azad as I was inspired by the great Indian scholar and Congressman Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Until then, I only had a pet name – Bava.”
A brilliant student, he went on to fulfill his father’s wishes by completing medicine with a gold medal from Calicut Medical University, where he also taught for five years before he came to the UAE.
Ironically, Dr Moopen’s foray into the Emirates had nothing to do with heathcare. “I first came to the UAE in 1987 to collect funds for a mosque being built back home,” he says.
While the task got done, destiny had other plans for him.
“An Indian doctor who was setting up a clinic in Ajman wanted me to assist him. But within a week’s time, he was convinced that someone with my credentials should be in Dubai. I tried to resist but he pushed me. That’s how I ended up in Dubai and opened my first clinic at Al Rafa.”
Dr Moopen says he had to put in long hours to cater to the rush of patients. “I would see around 100 cases a day and work from 8am to 12 midnight,” he recalls.
But with every passing day, his reputation as a dedicated and efficient doctor grew. He opened two more clinics - Al Quoz Clinic in Al Quoz and Dr Moopen’s Clinic in Deira - and there has been no looking back since.
“From a couple of units, we were 40-plus units by 2008. The big shift came that year when we rebranded ourselves as Aster. It was like a flywheel effect, our growth was exponential. Today, we have 92 clinics, 18 hospitals and 206 pharmacies. We employ over 19,000 people, including 2,000 doctors, 6,000 nurses and 3,000 paramedical staff.”
Dr Moopen attributes the spectacular growth to many factors. He says, “It is God’s grace that I am at the right place (UAE) at the right time with the right people. Our employees are very committed and hardworking. Our senior doctors have a retention rate of 90 per cent. Also, we are conscious that profit must never be the aim of healthcare, it can only be a by-product.”
Conscious of the high costs of healthcare, he says Aster has three rungs of hospitals and clinics: Medcare for high income groups, Aster for mid-income families and Access for blue-collar workers. “There is no difference in the treatment outcomes, only the frills change,” he says.
Dr Moopen is also sensitive to the manner in which healthcare is dispensed. “From bedside manners to breaking the bad news to a cancer patient or letting a family know about a patient’s death, a doctor’s ability to communicate is crucial. No matter how advanced technology gets, there is no taking away from the human touch in healthcare,” he says.
This approach has prompted Dr Do Good to launch Aster @30, a special programme to mark Aster’s three decades of “compassionate” care. The initiative includes key projects covering free training in basic life support, free surgeries and investigations, recruitment of differently abled people, launch of apps to facilitate immunisation and emergency services, blood donation drives and disaster and refugee management (see box).
Dr Moopen, who claims he sets aside 20 per cent of his wealth to help others, has also launched Aster Volunteers, a health and wellness initiative that focuses on spreading hope and inspiring people to look out for each other.
For him, good health is a state of complete - spiritual, mental, physical and social - well-being. “Only if there is a balance between the four, can one lead a full and happy life,” he adds.
Reaching out: Aster@30
Aster Volunteers: As part of its 30th anniversary celebrations, Aster has launched a corporate social responsibility initiative ‘Aster Volunteers’ where people from all walks of life can join and pitch in with various activities. People can register as volunteers, through the website www.AsterVolunteers.com to reach out with medical or non-medical support to people who require help. Those who need help can also share details about the nature of their issues.
Basic Life Support (BLS) Training: A mammoth initiative to train 300,000 volunteers in BLS with certification within a period of one year.
Free Surgeries and Investigation: Free treatments including 5,000 surgeries, 5,000 MRI scans and other investigations are being provided free of cost to poorer sections of society.
Save the Little Hearts: Thousands of children with heart diseases have been provided treatment in the Philippines, GCC, Africa and India.
Recruiting the differently abled: This initiative will see Aster recruiting 100 differently abled candidates in various verticals across geographies within the next one year.
Disaster and refugee management: Aster has been supporting affected victims of humanitarian crises in North Africa, by providing them with medicine, food and clothes. Aster doctors, nurses, paramedics and mobile clinics have been stationed at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
Aster immunisation, emergency apps: Aster has launched a mobile application that allows you to create a profile that keeps track of your medical history, reports, schedules and set reminders for immunisation, medical visits and other health related events. An easy-to-use mobile emergency application also provides the services of BLS trained volunteers for support in medical emergencies before the ambulance arrives.