The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and the medical associations representing Pakistani- and Bangladeshi-American physicians signed a memorandum of understanding to advance their common professional, humanitarian and policy issues, including U.S. health care reform on January 27th.
AAPI’s meeting with the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) and the Bangladeshi Medical Association of North America (BMANA) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami was intended to lay the groundwork for a grouping that could provide South Asian-American physicians a seat at the table in both organized medicine and mainstream policy discussions.
Longtime AAPI chief strategic affairs adviser Anwar Feroz Siddiqi, the catalyst behind the strategic gathering, said the MOU would seek “to establish a coalition of South Asian Physicians in North America (SAPNA) which will collaborate on strategic opportunities to address health and wellness of South Asians in North America and the South Asian Region.”
The meeting will be hosted by AAPNA president Dr. Zafar Hamid while AAPI and BMANA will be represented by their respective presidents Drs. Gautam Sammader and Riaz Choudhury and respective presidents-elect.
Siddiqi said the MOU is non-binding with no financial liabilities for any of the parties. He said initial deliberations and brain-storming would include the respective parties agreeing to support legislative priorities vis-à-vis medical and health care reform issues that are pending in state assemblies and on Capitol Hill. He said areas could include disparities in healthcare among minorities, visa waiver programs and residency slots for international medical graduates.
Dr. Gautam Samadder told the media that the collaboration “marks a historic step for all South Asians, as we AAPI, APPNA and BMANA join hands and sign this intent to act as a collective force on influencing, shaping and proactively dealing with healthcare challenges faced by South Asians in North America.”
Dr. Naresh Parikh, AAPI’s president-elect called it a “first step that has potential for opening many new opportunities for South Asian physicians and the population they serve.” Choudhury said that the three organizations together represent more than 100,000 practicing physicians in the U.S. — or about 10 percent of all practicing physicians nationwide.
Initiatives are expected to include promoting the research and education programs of the three organizations, instituting a research protocol to explore the cardiovascular health status among the South Asians in North America and cancer statistics at home and abroad.
He spoke of forming a national panel and advisory committee to help and guide the international medical graduates from South Asia. He said as an alliance of 10 percent of the nation’s doctors, the group can be more engaged in mainstream policy through the American Medical Association. Efforts will also include civic engagement in health fairs and providing telemedicine services to South Asian nations. Choudhury said saw the possibility of rotating the Global Healthcare Summit through the three nations.
Siddiqi said, the genesis of the alliance came in the summer when Hamid invited him to attend the APPNA convention as an observer in Orlando, Florida. He then traveled to India for the AAPI Global Healthcare Summit where, in discussions with senior Indian government officials and leaders in medicine and the healthcare industry, he learned that “India was very keen on establishing India as a healthcare center of excellence in the South Asian region.” Siddiqi said that if the groups can be aligned, the result would have the potential to achieve health and wellness goals in both the U.S. and South Asia and advance humanitarian causes too.
He said he was encouraged by the positive responses from Samadder, Dr. Naresh Parikh, AAPI president-elect, Hamid and Choudhury — and that became the key motivation behind the MOU.
He recalled that while attending the APPNA convention, he had met with Amin Hashwani, a young Pakistani philanthropist from London. Hashwani, he said, “was very passionate about helping young Pakistani children who need liver transplants and informed me that every year he sponsors several kids for liver transplants in India.”
Siddiqi said that when Hashwani found out he was with AAPI and had organized the global health forum, he asked how they might work together with groups like AAPI and APPNA on this humanitarian need.
Siddiqi said that it was a crystallization of all of these discussions and meetings that prompted him to set up an opportunity for dialogue between all the organizations. The result was an invitation to everyone to get together and sign an MOU for the groups to formally agree to work together. “And we could then explore other opportunities,” he said.