Ajit Isaac, Chairman of Quess Corp, on Thursday signed an MoU with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru to donate ₹105 crore for setting up a Centre for Public Health and Policy Research.

This comes a month after Mindtree co-founders Subroto Bagchi and N Parthasarthy donated ₹425 crore to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, for setting up a 800-bed multi-speciality hospital. The Chairman of Quess Corp and his wife Sarah Isaac have made the donation through his family run Isaac foundation.

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The academic centrepiece of this initiative will be an integrated dual degree MD-PhD programme aimed at prividing training in the hospital as well as the science and engineering laboratories at IISc

The soon to be established Isaac Centre for Public Health (ICPH) will be a part of the postgraduate medical school, soon to be established on campus. The centre will be operational by 2024 and is expected to encourage aspirants to pursue careers in clinical research to develop new treatments and healthcare solutions driven by a bench-to-bedside philosophy.

Speaking to BusinessLine, Isaac said the current Covid pandemic opened his eyes to the need for greater research into public health and policy in India. The entrepreneur — who runs India’s largest flexi-staffing, business service provider, with more than 4.2 lakh employees — said that society and private initiative should supplement the government’s efforts as the scale of challenges in a country as vast and diverse as India are humungous. Expressing hope that the new centre at IISc would scale like similar ones such as the Chan Institute of Public Health at Harvard, the Bloomberg Institute of Public Health at MIT or the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, Isaac said he was confident that IISc was the best partner to realise this vision.

‘Something different’

Stating that a team from IISc had initially reached out to him for participation in the multispecialty hospital project it was setting up, Isaac asked them to come back with a different project “as I had previously also engaged in setting up a Centre for Geriatrics care at St Johns Hospital and a Paediatric care one at CMC Vellore and wanted to do something different”.

When IISc came back with a project to setup this centre to look at public health-related initiatives and develop this capacity in India in the area of public health, the Chairman of Quess immediately agreed. Stating his reason, he says ‘coming out of COVID that we were in right now, I have realised public health in a large way today centres around big data. You can’t find a better place than, IISc for big data today. So the combination of medical and clinical inputs, a practice of healthcare and big data made it a terrific combination that you can’t get anywhere else in India. And IISc’s reputation as an academic institution is right up there. It is only institute perhaps in the top 100 in the world from India. So it was an easy decision to make to partner with IISC to develop what could what can be perhaps India’s foremost centre for public health.”

Expertise in public health

Govindan Rangarajan, Director, Indian Institute of Science, said, “There is an acute need for India to have a world class centre for clinical and academic research in public health to be able to make quicker and more impactful strides in realising the goal of quality healthcare for all. The proposed centre will interface between all the departments of the IISc Medical School, and also other science and engineering departments of IISc in the context of public health research. In particular, the center will create a niche for health data science and analytics through close collaboration with the existing world-class computer science and data science departments at IISc, putting it on par with international counterparts like the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We are grateful for such contributions from philanthropic leaders like Mr and Mrs Isaac who make it possible for us to move from aspirations to actually realising our goals.”

Commenting on the growing trend of first generation enetrepreneurs like himself contributing back to the society through such funding, Isaac said, “The scale of wealth that’s also created gives them the ability to carve out some of their harvests from their business into goals or objectives such as this. Also there’s a greater awareness of what the problem is in society and clearly health and education is staring you in the face. Government contribution to health and education is also falling over the years. It’s not as much as it should be. So the gap between what you want and what is available is also growing. And I think people are reacting to the situation and stepping up.”

Stating that the donation – which would be spread over the next four years – would be used to develop facilities, invest in capacity in terms of labs, equipment, Isaac said it would also aid in the academic progress of 10 doctoral students every year, plus about 30 other post-graudate students of the Centre. It would eventually thus produce 30 to 40 trained personnel with expertise in public health and policy. Part of the funds will also go to creating endowed chairs that will create capacity inside the institution for specific subject related matters.