Asha founder awarded honorary doctorate

Dr Kiran Martin, founder of the Asha Community Health and Development Society, has been awarded a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) for her contribution to the interests and welfare of the people of India.
Mark Scott, Dr Kiran Martin and Alan McKee

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Mark Scott AO (left), Asha founder Dr Kiran Martin and Professor Alan McKee, Head of School of Art, Communication and English (right)

The University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott AO, conferred the degree of Doctor of Letters upon Dr Kiran Martin during a ceremony in the University’s Great Hall on Friday 13 October 2023, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the interests and welfare of the people of India and for her leadership in civil society.

I am delighted to admit Kiran to this degree, knowing how much effort she has invested over her lifetime to develop health, education, sanitation, gender equality and financial inclusion in the slum communities of New Delhi.

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott AO

“In founding and working through Asha, Kiran has far exceeded the work of a typical doctor or healthcare provider. She has created an organisation that has reached and improved the lives of millions of people in India and has achieved outcomes envied and emulated by governments and international organisations,” Professor Scott said.

“The importance of education has also been a constant theme in Kiran’s career and since 2008, Asha has supported more than 4500 students across its slum communities to receive a university education.

“The University has been a proud partner of Kiran and Asha since 2019, delivering the Sydney Scholars India Equity Scholarship together to provide access to postgraduate education for the brightest minds from New Delhi’s most vulnerable communities. We’re also enormously proud of our scholarship recipients, who are now valued members of our University community.”

Dr Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery before completing Advanced Studies in Paediatrics at the University of Delhi. In 1988, Dr Martin heard about a cholera outbreak in a south Delhi slum. She was inspired to use her talents to help the poor and marginalised, so went to the slum, set up a borrowed table under a tree, and began working to save lives.

As Dr Martin learned more about the hardships and deprivation faced by the people there, she started to devise ways to address their problems. Alongside growing cooperation from the community and the Indian government, she founded the Asha Community Health and Development Society (Asha), a non-government organisation working to raise health standards and improve community development in slum communities in and around Delhi.

Asha’s model was founded with a strong desire to deliver social justice and to change the socio-economic factors of health and education impacting the lives of people in the vast, sprawling megapolis of Delhi. Asha’s approach directly challenges the caste and class system existing in Indian society and seeks to redress the unequal treatment of women by empowering them to bring about change in their own communities. The foundation is now 35 years old and has benefited millions of impoverished peoples’ lives in slum colonies in Delhi.

Asha’s health intervention programs cover a wide range of issues including antenatal, postnatal and paediatric care, family planning, infertility and reproductive services, chronic disease management and treatment. Some notable achievements include an infant mortality rate of 11 per 1000 live births compared to the Indian national average of 28.3 per 1000 live births and a tuberculosis mortality rate across Asha’s slums of one per one million, compared to the Indian national average of 32 per one million.

During the pandemic, Dr Martin was tireless in her work to adapt Asha’s support to save lives and support the livelihoods of the most vulnerable in Delhi. Asha also runs a financial inclusion program providing financial literacy education and assistance, as well as a social support network for many of the communities it serves.

Asha’s work has been recognised as best practice by the United Nations’ Habitat program. In 2002, Dr Martin’s achievements were recognised by the Indian Government when she was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, by the President of India. Both state and national slum policies have been influenced by Asha’s work, and Dr Martin has worked with several ministers within the Indian and Delhi Governments in the portfolios of Home Affairs, Finance, and Health.

In addition to appearances before the United State House of Representatives and the British House of Commons, Dr Martin has been an international speaker for many years. She has lectured at Harvard, MIT and Cambridge, and has spoken at numerous international conferences.

Dr Martin’s achievements have also been recognised and supported by governments and charitable organisations in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

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