SastaSundar, a premier brand in the online pharmaceutical business, was launched in 2014 by Mr Banwari Lal Mittal. Mr Mittal, a CA, has been a true health entrepreneur in India with a vision and an approach towards mass welfare. Sastasundar Ventures Ltd is listed on the BSE and NSE and owns the e-pharmacy portal, sastasundar.com, through its step-down subsidiary, Sastasundar Healthbuddy Ltd. We spoke to Mr BL Mittal to know about his plans with SastaSundar and to understand his vision of how SastaSundar could play a stellar role in urban and rural healthcare. An excerpt:
The Optimist: SastaSundar has become a household name ever since its inception in 2014. Can you please share with us how you conceived this unique idea?
BL Mittal: It has been a truly amazing journey. But, believe me, SastaSundar is not a business for me, but a tribute to my country. Our aim is to improve the quality of life of the people of my country. If you take a look at the health map of India, you will be surprised to know that 65% of Indians do not have access even to basic medicine. Moreover, 25% of the medicines sold in India are fake. In 54% cases, prescriptions are written by non-medical practitioners.
Let’s not forget that India is the third-largest producer of drugs in the world having the best pool of doctors and the most talented healthcare workers in the world. In spite of this, access to medical facilities is a huge problem even today. This is not a general experience, but my personal experience, too. My father was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 45 years old. After some time, he stopped having the medicines because the symptoms seemed to have disappeared. When he was 54, he had kidney failure and passed away when he was 62. During the last few years of his life, he was mostly under dialysis and was dependent on others.
Take my case, too. I came to know about nutritional diet when I was 42 years old. Basically, the whole idea of health and hygiene in India is not in very good shape and it is our aim to promote healthcare and make medicines accessible to all.
The Optimist: What were your interests in studies as a child?
BL Mittal: Often, people ask me, whether I pursued medical science, or something to do with the health sciences. In reality, I am a chartered accountant (CA) and I could easily have opted for permanent consultancy work. In fact, before SastaSundar, I was doing quite well financially. But I always wanted to do something worthwhile in the healthcare sector. Be it nutrition, diet or medicine, our country has a lot to achieve. I remember, seven years ago, when I visited my native village, I met a neighbour whom I called ‘Kaka’. I was surprised to see he was blind. When I enquired, he said he had taken some medicine for a chronic disease from a local health centre and lost his vision soon after that. Later, I came to know he had been suffering from acute diabetes. This is not a one-off case. In India, 25 crore people suffer from diabetes, but only five crore have access to medicines. This isn’t because we don’t have the resources. India has pioneered medicine.
But the problem is connectivity, which played a major role in the success of polio eradication. In the case of polio, our country created a centralized resource centre and partnered with local stakeholders so that we were able to reach the masses. The same can be done with digital connectivity to reach the remotest corners of the country. But it depends upon how efficiently we can reach medicines to the people. It has been my personal vision to reduce the costs effectively with digital innovation, along with solving the nutritional problem. Old age is a common problem in India. SastaSundar is looking forward to making the last 25 years of elderly people a happier one.
The Optimist: What has been the USP of SastaSundar?
BL Mittal: At SastaSundar, we make honest efforts to reach out to people with medicines through a proper infrastructure. Let’s make one thing clear: SastaSundar doesn’t sell medicines, but facilitates the entire procedure. We are a digital communication channel helping the process, bridging the gap between customers and pharmacies. The pharmacies provide medicines with a proper prescription. In fact, we plan to come up with ‘telemedicine’, which will be a boon for people in the rural areas. Telemedicine will help active knowledge exchange and benefit people in these remote areas.
The Optimist: What are your plans for SastaSundar in states other than Bengal?
BL Mittal: Frankly, I don’t find a huge difference. West Bengal is a representative state. From the economic, social or literacy angles, our experience in Bengal has enriched us enough to proceed with the other states. I also want to stress the employment generation possibilities of the SastaSundar system. I feel happy to see the many people now working directly with SastaSundar, or those engaged in health centres curated by our organization. In fact, the involvement of rural women is very encouraging. SastaSundar has been actively helping empower rural and urban women. Our team of specialists has been helping create resource manpower, which is of great help in the long run.
The Optimist: What are your future plans for SastaSundar?
BL Mittal: When I launched SastaSundar, my idea was not to make money, but to serve the nation with genuine healthcare facilities. People often ask me if we have plans of building nursing homes. I’m very clear on this. We have enough hospitals, nursing homes and health centres in our country. But we need to connect them with patients (read subscribers). SastaSundar is a facilitator in this field. In the coming years, with robotics, things are going to change for the better in the healthcare segment. In fact, we can resolve the issue of healthcare professional shortages in rural areas through telemedicine and robotics. So, the future is bright. SastaSundar believes in inclusive work in the greater interests of society. We believe our next generation will surely witness a complete makeover in the healthcare segment.