Ahimsa Fund: making healthcare accessible to disadvantaged communities

The concept of ‘Ahimsa’ is at the heart of Ahimsa Fund founder Jean-François de Lavison’s personal philosophy, as well as directing the organisation’s central mission – making affordable healthcare accessible to all. Founded in 2012, the Fund has found its place on the global stage, having launched dozens of international healthcare initiatives targeting the world’s poorest communities. Read on to discover how the Ahimsa Fund came to be, from its Hindu roots to the worldwide organisation that’s changing lives today.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The words of Mahatma Gandhi are at the heart of Ahimsa Fund’s philosophy: creating innovative, sustainable projects that democratize healthcare on a global scale, right where they’re needed most.

The birth of Ahimsa Fund: traditional Hindu wisdom meets social entrepreneurship

Fund founder Jean-François de Lavison was fortunate enough to make several visits to India over the course of his career, most notably to help establish a BioMérieux subsidiary within the country. The time he spent there significantly influenced his world philosophy – so much so that when the time came to give a name to his new project, there was only one choice.

Evoking more than just kindness or love for one’s neighbour, the Sanskrit word ‘ahimsa’ encompasses benevolence, non-violence and respect for all life. The concept is known for having inspired numerous Indian leaders, from Nehru to Gandhi, for whom poverty was ‘the worst kind of violence’. As the Fund’s guiding philosophy, influencing its day-to-day activities as well as its wider global mission, Ahimsa shapes everything the organisation – and its founder – hope to achieve.

Often depicted via the image of a cow and a lioness drinking side by side, accompanied by a calf suckling from the lioness’ teat while her cubs drink from the cow’s udder, ahimsa represents a willingness to bring cultures together and to accept that our similarities mean much more than our differences.

Looking past the North-South divide to establish healthcare on a global scale

An astonishing 70% of the global healthcare market can be found in ‘rich’ countries, with the remaining 30% found in ‘poor’ countries – this despite the fact that over 80% of the world’s population lives in these poorer regions. Nevertheless, problems linked to globalization have triggered countless inequalities in countries both rich and poor. These problems mean that the way we’re used to viewing the world – namely, dividing it into ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries on the basis of wealth – no longer applies in the same way. Simply put, we’re as likely to find incredibly rich individuals and corporations in poor countries as we are to find disadvantaged communities in richer ones. Ahimsa Fund is committed to fighting poverty on a global scale, irrespective of where it’s found.

Communities inclusion vs. social exclusion: differing poverties in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Although poverty can be found across the world, it isn’t always experienced in the same way. In developing countries, the most disadvantaged individuals tend to group together in communities, working together in solidarity to achieve their goals. In developed countries, where existing structures are at the root of situations linked to poverty (unemployment, etc.), those affected become marginalised. Finding themselves on the outskirts of society, they begin to reject it in their turn.

As Jean-François de Lavison puts it:

“In underdeveloped countries, people are born poor, live poor, and die poor. In developed countries, they’re not born poor, they become poor, and they die poor.”

Medics on the move: when healthcare meets social innovation

Any healthcare project that aims to provide effective care to disadvantaged communities quickly finds itself confronted with a major problem – finding a solution, logistically speaking, to providing that care.

Often, it’s completely unfeasible to attempt to relocate whole populations to a central dispensary or care location. Reasons for this include expenses, distrust of modern medicine, and the simple fact that healthcare isn’t necessarily a priority for these communities. What’s more, to avoid spreading contagion or disease, most healthcare organisations – including France’s SAMU Social and the Red Cross – recommend sending medics, nurses or aid personnel to visit patients directly, thereby limiting potential contamination. Care has to move to the patient.

Key developments in mobile healthcare: 4 innovative public health projects

Lifeline Express: the ‘miracle on wheels’ saving lives across India

Since 1991, India’s famous Lifeline Express can be found dispensing aid and healthcare to even the remotest regions and populations. Missions last from a few days up to several weeks, with the Express’ distinctive line of five brightly-decorated wagons helping to treat widespread conditions with life-changing surgery, from club feet and cataracts to damage linked to polio.

Phelophepa: the ‘hope train’ helping millions of South-Africans

South Africa’s Phelophepa – literally ‘hope train’ – is the largest mobile clinic in the world, having treated over 24 million patients across the country since its launch in 1994. What’s more, as the years have gone by, local communities have begun responding to the train’s visits. Locals bring friends and neighbours, too weak or sick to walk, for treatment, while others help by feeding and housing the train’s medical personnel.

Friendship, the hospital-boats fighting disease in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the NGO ‘Friendship’ regularly sets sail in order to bring vital aid and medical supplies to the country’s significant riverside population. These floating hospitals contain everything from gynecological services and an optometry clinic to a sterilizing room, two operating theaters and paediatric and radiology departments!

LaboMobil, the lab on wheels battling epidemics in Guinea

We’ve seen trains and boats, but what about Guinea’s fully mobile hospital-car? The LaboMobil traverses the Guinean coast – one of the country’s most isolated regions – to offer healthcare to some of its most disadvantaged populations. Equipped with a state-of-the-art laboratory, including a laminar flow hood, centrifuge, refrigerator, and fluorescent microscope, LaboMobil works to identify and halt the spread of contagious diseases, such as cholera and bacterial meningitis.

“We live surrounded by a sea of poverty and suffering. Nevertheless, this sea can decrease in size.
Our work is only a drop in the bucket, but this drop is necessary.”

Mother Teresa

The future of global public health initiatives lies in taking advantage of globalisation, focusing on international collaboration that directly tackles the leading causes of poverty. This approach is valid not just in terms of encouraging social entrepreneurship, but also the logistics of putting care programs in place. Successful projects have shown time and time again that when it comes to improving public health within disadvantaged communities, there’s only one solution: seeking out the local population and delivering on-site care.

Proud of its origins and dedicated to transmitting ahimsa’s values across the world, Ahimsa Fund calls upon other leading healthcare actors to encourage and promote shared initiatives, so that we can work together to improve public health on a global scale.