From the moment you meet Ravdeep Gandhi, one thing is clear: She is a woman on a mission. When she discusses her work to eliminate tuberculosis in India, there’s a spark in her eye and a determined note in her voice. “I want to be part of the solution,” she says. “I’ve seen the suffering that TB causes patients and families, and it touches me.” A deep sense of responsibility drives her to help achieve the Indian government’s goal to eliminate the disease by 2025.
With more than two million Indians infected by TB—and another million who go undiagnosed or unreported each year—halting its spread is a monumental task. Ravdeep joined PATH in 2014, after 16 years in high-flying management roles across the health care industry. Eager to drive meaningful change, she channeled her energy and expertise into a position with a new Mumbai-based program called the Private Provider Interface Agency (PPIA).
Most Indian TB patients turn to private physicians for treatment. Recognizing this, PPIA provided them with access to free, public-sector drugs and subsidized state-of-the-art diagnosis. The goal: identify unreported patients, boost case notifications to the government tracking system, and improve treatment adherence. (Depending on the strain, TB can require up to nine months of medication.)
Building bridges between the public and private sectors
Charged with cultivating trust and building partnerships with more than 4,300 private doctors, labs, and pharmacies in Mumbai, Ravdeep and her field officers faced real challenges. At the time, PATH was unknown in the city. Many physicians had had negative experiences with other nongovernmental organizations. And, the providers faced immense pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to prescribe drugs other than the government-provided ones.
“What’s the catch?” they asked when Ravdeep explained the PPIA model.
With her industry background and deep insights into the private health care sector, Ravdeep was uniquely positioned to build bridges. “We work at the ground level to engage with providers,” she says. “We always design our communications in relatable terms that translate to their business.”
PPIA was a resounding success. By 2019, it had diagnosed more than 60,000 new TB cases; screened more than 7,000 TB patients for HIV; and logged a TB treatment success rate of more than 80 percent. Ravdeep points to another telling statistic: When she began with PPIA, just six percent of private providers believed in the medication called FDCs—fixed-dose combinations that blend four drugs into one tablet. Now, thanks largely to her team’s efforts, 70 to 80 percent of private providers in Mumbai prescribe the proven regimen.
Touching lives across India
Today, Ravdeep is expanding the success of PPIA in a pan-India effort called the Joint Effort for Elimination of Tuberculosis (JEET). Her role has her traveling across three states and 30 districts, building vital partnerships with government officials, private providers, institutions, donors, and colleagues.
To accomplish all this, she travels 12 or more days each month. “I’m never on the clock,” says Ravdeep. “There is no clock.” She maintains her balance—and her phenomenal energy level—through regular yoga and meditation practices. She also credits her supportive family, and especially her twin brother, who has taken time off to care for the siblings’ 80-year-old mother.
“I’m excited to continue offering my skills, energy, and expertise,” says Ravdeep. “JEET is a huge opportunity to drive change, create a super network of providers, and inch closer to the elimination goal of 2025.”