As the Aga Khan University Hospital marks its 60th anniversary this year, it has invested in technology and management systems to enable it meet the changing healthcare needs and retain its position in the club of the few hospitals in Africa to be accredited by world renowned bodies such as the Joint Commission and College of American Pathologists.
The Business Daily spoke to Shawn Bolouki, the mechanical engineer who took over as hospital’s chief executive officer five years ago, on the institution's plans to become Africa’s leading research centre and home of quality specialised care and his dream of building a world class centre right here.
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE US AND KENYAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS?
I ran hospitals in the US for almost 28 years before I joined the Aga Khan University Hospital. In the US the healthcare system is very well regulated. The US has, for instance, anti-kickback law, and there are many checks and balances on how the federal money is spent. The roles, rules and regulations are all clear at all levels. After 2010 — when there was accountable care and reform of healthcare in the US — no physician can own any shares in any hospital because it creates conflict of interest. In Kenya, there is a lot of conflict of interest and grey areas that policymakers need to work on.
SINCE YOU JOINED THE HOSPITAL, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
As a team we have had so many wins. But what can sum it up is the new technology that we have been able to bring on board. For instance, the ultra-modern Positron Emission Tomography (PET) CT scanner and Cyclotron, which we were among the first hospitals to acquire globally, has been in high demand since it was installed. New technology means a reduction in medical tourism to other countries. Notably, the number of foreign patients visiting the hospital for various services and procedures has also grown almost seven times in five years, from 1,868 in 2014 to 8,363 in 2019. This can only mean that we are doing something right.
WHAT IS THE HOSPITAL DOING TO MEET THE CONSTANTLY CHANGING HEALTHCARE NEEDS AND REMAIN A PREFERRED INSTITUTION?
We are putting up a children’s hospital and will be building it within the main hospital. We plan to break ground by the third quarter of the year. The 100-bed hospital will be the first and only university speciality children’s hospital in the East and South African region. It will also come with the capability to be expanded as need arises. We recruited a professor from the University of Alabama and he will be leading the oncology institute.
We will be building a multidisciplinary breasts clinic and Aga Khan University cancer research centre to be operational in May. In fact, we are in negotiations with two pharmaceutical organisations to designate Aga Khan University as the site of clinical trials for cancer. On the university campus we're building in Nairobi, we will have a molecular biology and stem cell laboratory on one floor. We will also set up the centre of 3D printing. We are trying to expand our services, ultimately for the good of the country.
WHAT INFORMED THE HOSPITAL'S DECISION TO BUILD THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL?
We did a market study that showed that the country needs about 1,000 additional paediatric beds. We also noticed a demand spike in paediatric cardiology and oncology, and we will be ready to offer these services on opening since the infrastructure is available too. We will also be looking to include other services like neurology, orthopaedic surgeries and paediatric surgeries. But the services will be reviewed as need arises. Interestingly, for a country with over 47 million people we only have about two paediatric nephrologists. By building the hospital we will also start building capacity; we will start training nurses, and physicians in different specialities so that it can provide the proper services.
WHY IS RESEARCH SUCH AN IMPORTANT ASPECT TO THE INSTITUTION?
The fundamental role of the university is to be at the forefront of knowledge and to disseminate knowledge within the community. When the transfer of knowledge to the wider community and practitioner happens, then the university indirectly improves the care that is being provided to the people. Universities have a talent pool that also likes doing research- there is so much that can be achieved by these institutions.
AND WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF DATA?
Data is at the heart of every decision we make, whether it is the research centres, equipment or new service. In fact, we are making a lot of investments in sophisticated electronic medical records and the intention is to put all of our patients on one platform and use the data to analyse trends, see the gaps and ideally to inform service delivery to the patients. Our latest year-long data shows that we attended 8.4 million patients, conducted 28 million lab tests, delivered 36,000 babies and conducted 64,000 surgeries. When you have such big data, it will allow you to start understand how we can best deliver our services when we compare to our affiliate units in Karachi, Pakistan, Kampala, Uganda and Dar es Salaam.
TAKE ME THROUGH THE HOSPITAL'S PLANS FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS …
In a nutshell, in the next five years the university will be investing Sh25 billion in the East African region. Some of the funds will be invested in the Nairobi campus currently under construction, procurement of new equipment, building of the research centres and the cancer centres, student housing, and in carrying out renovations. We have plenty of plans in place, including having a fully functional stroke centre by December.
YOU SOUND LIKE YOU WILL NOT BE SLOWING DOWN ANY TIME SOON …
We cannot afford to slow down. Human capacity and technology are complementary to each other. We are building a world class institution right here in Kenya and installing the latest technology in medicine to attract and bring back home some of the best trained Kenyan-born doctors.