Chris Kimball, Updated December 08, 2010 12:28:00
Pic by Alex Ellinghausen
Sam Prince is a doctor, Mexican food entrepreneur and philanthropist – and now he aims to eradicate one disease at a time. All this at just 26.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-12-03/sam-prince/2363320 — Source: 7.30 ACT | Duration: 19min 51sec
Healing the World a Step at a Time
Mark Metherell, in Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/national/healing-the-world-a-step-at-a-time-20110401-1crbh.html
Sam Prince is a prodigy in a hurry. Lunch with him is conducted standing at the counter of one of his restaurants, eating a burrito out of a foil wrap. At age 27, Prince has achieved more than most do in a lifetime. While still a medical student, he launched his own Zambrero ”fresh mex” restaurant chain which now numbers 17 outlets aroundAustralia. He graduated from medicine much earlier than most, at 22. The engaging young doctor has established and financed the E-magine Foundation, which has built and equipped 15 computer learning centres in rural areas of his parents’ birthplace,Sri Lanka, with a goal to build 100 schools by 2014.
Along the way he has rallied young doctors to run public education campaigns inSri Lankaon effective responses to two big health hazards there: snake bites and dengue fever. Now he is embarking on his most ambitious goal yet: taking a leadership role in the elimination of scabies fromAustralia, beginning with Arnhem Land in theNorthern Territory.
The scabies plan may seem to the lay person a strange ambition in an already luminous career. But this is a project of complexity and sensitivity which has the potential to transform lives among the least healthy Australians.
The tiny scabies mite gets under the skin of an estimated 70 per cent of remote community children within their first year of life. The itch and resulting persistent bacterial breach of the body’s defence system exposes sufferers to the risk of rheumatic heart disease, chronic illness and early death.
The death rate from rheumatic heart disease – rarely seen in whiteAustralia- is among the highest in the world but the combination of a hot moist climate, social dysfunction, and poor housing and hygiene have frustrated attempts to counter scabies.
The scabies project is the first phase of Prince’s grand ambition of eliminating ”One Disease At A Time” – a philanthropic effort that depends heavily on his drive and his dollars.
We lunch at a Zambrero inCanberra’s sprawling new dormitory suburb of Gungahlin. He apologises for appearing vague about the latest of his franchised eateries to open. It was the first time he had visited it.
He suggests a beef burrito with lime juice, tamarind, white sauce and tomato salsa, and almost immediately we are talking about another of his projects: ”Plate for plate”. He says for every meal Zambrero serves, Plate for Plate will provide a meal in undeveloped countries. The scheme, he says, ”will feed up to one million children in poverty this year alone”. In partnership with the international Action Against Hunger organisation, the project begins inLiberiaand aims to drive self-sufficiency and avoid aid-dependency, Prince says.
Where does such a will to achieve come from? Prince talks fondly of his mother, Thilaka, who hails from a very modest rural background inSri Lankabut ended up inScotlandwith five degrees including a doctorate.
Prince was born inScotlandand his parents decided to settle inAustralia. Raised inCanberra, he says his own life has been driven by ”adventure and discovery”, and by the ”magic” he has found in so many people he meets.
That ambition was to plunge him into what he says was ”the hardest and most excruciating time of my life”. Just 23 and already working up to 80 hours a week as a hospital intern, he recalls, he was cleaning the floor of his empty restaurant wondering why the established eatery across the road was packed. ”Doctors I worked with thought it was crazy, strange, a bit odd that I should start a Mexican restaurant.”
He gets by on about four hours’ sleep a night and squeezes his ”full-time” job as a doctor atFairfieldHospitalinto three days a week in order to devote the rest of his time to his wider horizons.
”I thinkAustraliahas done really good things for my family. We came here with nothing. We have always felt safe and free. If I identify a problem, I feel as a private citizen I should get together and do something, not complain to the government.”
He founded his first Zambrero when he was studying medicine because he felt there was a gap in the market for healthy Mexican food. When that proved a success, he determined to use his business experience to establish the E-magine Foundation. ”I started wanting to pay homage to where I came from.”
He was struck by the fact that unlike in his mother’s day when she could use a public library to educate herself, the dominance of technology has created a growing ”digital divide” between poor and affluent countries. He observed impoverished children inSri Lankastruggling without the internet in a world where ”Word and Excel is assumed knowledge … I thought it unjust that their fate was sealed even before they got to school.”
From the Zambrero experience he brought the principles of key performance indicators and efficiency focus to the new venture. ”That is really why we were able to build 15 schools in two years with my own money.”
He drew together a group of young doctor volunteers to help build the schools, financed with at least $100,000 from Zambrero revenues, says Stuart Cook, the chief executive of the Zambrero Group. Cook, 25, an accountant, met Prince on a bus on the way to the Taj Mahal inIndia after seeing him pick up an award as one of the 10 most outstanding young people in the world the night before. Cook says that at first he could not believe Prince could have achieved so much.
”The strongest characteristic that strikes you when you get to know the man is his absolute will to achieve excellence in everything that he sets out to do. This will is driven by his amazing, clear-minded vision to see what can be accomplished far earlier and stronger than anyone in the room,” says Cook.
Having a group of doctors ready for action inSri Lanka, Prince says he looked at how to better use their talents and decided upon first aid classes for young people. These were aimed at making them aware of the simple but effective ways to identify and treat dengue fever and snake bite – often killers inSri Lankabecause of reliance on ineffective traditional remedies.
The team ended up providing classes for 3000 children. ”That went amazingly well … they got the concepts. I could see it in their eyes.” Bringing medical knowledge that seemed to win over so many receptive minds gave him a different but comparable satisfaction to saving heart attack patients back in a Canberra emergency department where he was then based.
Prince frequently returns to the ”magic” and the random way in which others have swayed him. There was his ”mentor”, Frank Bowden, an infectious diseases expert and professor of medicine at theAustralianNationalUniversity. When Prince was pondering which condition should be his inaugural target for his One Disease At A Time plan, it was Bowden who suggested scabies.
Bowden can speak from experience. He led a successful drive to eradicate the sexually transmitted disease donovanosis, which afflicted hundreds of indigenous people in northern Australia until less than a decade ago. Bowden and his team overcame the disease by using ”herd immunity” methods in which clinicians focused the treatment and prevention efforts in such a way as to break the cycle of infection.He says that, and the availability of a pill, ivermectin, to kill the scabies, replacing the cumbersome practice of daily total-body application of an insecticide cream, has made the scabies campaign difficult but feasible. The Sam Prince impetus, says Bowden, makes success more likely.
Professor Jonathan Carapetis agrees. An authority on indigenous children’s disease and director of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, Carapetis has been developing a scheme to combat scabies onElchoIslandoffArnhem Land. He says it’s not only Prince’s offer to underwrite the scabies scheme that makes its success all the more likely – it could cost $3 million to $5 million – but his talent for spurring enthusiasm in others.”He’s obviously got an ability to engage people, both established professionals but also the younger generation,” says Carapetis.
He hopes Prince will help lure top talent to create a social marketing campaign directed at the most important group: the young, often teenage, parents in remote communities, most of whom have mobile phones that could be used in Twitter-style campaign messages. Prince hopes to spread optimism not only among communities but also among young medical students, some of whom he was stunned to hear voice pessimism about improving indigenous health.
If veterans like Bowden and Carapetis say it’s possible to eliminate scabies, he has good reason to be optimistic, he says. He quotes an entreaty attributed to Goethe: ”Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic.”
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/healing-the-world-a-step-at-a-time-20110401-1crbh.html#ixzz1aL2Q2Vm2