Medical Meccas: An Oasis for India's Poorest

Several hundred poor and middle-class Indians are awaiting screening for dengue fever, a mos-quito-borne disease that has reached near-epidemic proportions in Delhi this fall. Sick and frightened, they lie on straw mats and blankets spread over the pavement in a queue that streams around the ambulance drive and out to the main road. Inside, doctors in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, or AIIMS, are working to fight off the outbreak of the sometimes deadly virus. Mosquitoes are common on the hospital campus, too, and a dozen ward doctors have contracted dengue themselves. One medical student has died.

This is what it takes to be India's best public hospital. Last year the government-run hospital, with about 2,000 beds, treated 3.5 million people, achieving mortality and infection rates comparable to the best facilities in the developed world--for fees that come to about $1 a day for inpatients.

AIIMS can do this because of government funding of about $100 million a year. Because it doesn't waste much cash on amenities, it can afford to buy cutting-edge equipment. Senior residents at AIIMS make about $400 a month. But they stay because of perks--doctors get the chance to spend one or two years working abroad, for instance--plus the opportunity to work with the latest technology and obtain big research grants.