While the nation is paying rich tributes to former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who passed away on Monday, there is a demand from doctors and patients in Hyderabad that his two medical innovations, heart stents and lightweight callipers, which was a boon to poor patients due to their cost effectiveness, be revived and promoted under the Union government’s “Make in India” programme.
Kalam, who led the Defence Research and Development Organization, was moved by the accounts of poor patients suffering from cardiac problem at the state run Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), where Dr Soma Raju, a friend of the former President, was the director. Kalam and Raju used the state of the art defence technology to design what was later known as “Kalam-Raju stent”.
The specially designed coil and metal based stent was priced at Rs 7,000, way cheaper than the commonly used stent which is available for Rs 30,000. The stents, which started being manufactured by some ancillary units of defence sector, became popular with patients in NIMS, many of whom were implanted with these stents.
“Dr Kalam’s concern for poor patients has led to the invention of these stents,” Raju, a leading cardiologist and founder of Care Hospitals group, told The Sunday Guradian.
Kalam was keen on popularising the stents in government hospitals but the management there was not ready to promote them. The hospitals remained flooded with costly stents, some of which were made in India whereas many were imported from other countries.
The stents, along with the special callipers which he designed, have almost disappeared from hospital shelves, thus denying the poor and underprivileged the benefit of cost effective devices. Several doctors and patients who spoke to The Sunday Guardian are of the view that the revival of Kalam’s inventions would be the best homage to him.
“The big corporate houses which manufacture stents offer cuts (commissions) to doctors and hospital managements by hiking prices, but Kalam-Raju stent makers couldn’t give any such commission. The doctors, therefore, deliberately discouraged the use of Kalam-Raju stents,” a senior cardiologist and former resident medical officer at NIMS told this paper on condition of anonymity.
When these cost effective stents were introduced during 1991-1994, there was demand for them from hospitals in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Delhi. But soon drug eluting stents marketed by the imported stents’ lobby elbowed them out. Dr Markandeya Sharma, leading cardio thoracic surgeon with the government run Osmania General Hospital in Hyderabad, suggested that the Defence Research and Development Laboratory together with Raju should carry out further research and improve the Kalam-Raju stents which will be of great help for the poor patients.
Even the lightweight callipers developed by Kalam for polio patients have disappeared. Kalam had developed them in the mid-1990s after teaming up with orthopaedic surgeons at NIMS. The Kalam callipers weighed only 350 grams, much lighter than conventional callipers which were 3-4 kg in weight.
“Dr Kalam showed enormous interest in developing the lightweight callipers with carbon and polymer so that the polio patients can use them easily. Moreover, these callipers cost much less than the traditional ones which were priced at Rs 10,000,” recalled Dr B.N. Prasad, who assisted Kalam to design these callipers during 1995-1996.
Around 50,000 polio patients used these callipers. “Dr Kalam was more than happy when he learnt that there was a good response to these callipers” said Dr L. Narendranath, director of NIMS.
But the lightweight callipers went out of stock after commercial manufacturers edged them out with their strong marketing strategies. The Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO), a Central government undertaking in Kanpur, stopped manufacturing Kalam callipers 10 years ago.
Dr T.V. Rao of Jana Vignana Vedkia, an NGO, told this paper that “the real tribute to Dr Kalam will be to revive his stents and callipers under the Make in India campaign of the Union government since the former President was always eager to help the poor and the needy.”
Telangana Medical and Health Minister C. Lakshma Reddy seconded the thought. “If we really want to pay homage to Dr Kalam, we should arrange funds for improving the stents and callipers he designed and make them easily available for the poor,” he said. Senior cardiology consultant Dr Sunil Kapoor said there is a need to name a cost effective stent after Kalam: “We have immensely benefited from Dr Kalam's efforts."