The 2 country-wide lockdowns of 3 weeks each, one after another are unprecedented anywhere in the world. We all know of the distress caused to millions of migrant labourers but we can only wish that someone had planned the first lockdown much better! Maybe there were some compulsions that have been hidden from public domain! We may also like to be generous at such times and forgive those who took the decisions “for they knew not what they did!”
Author: Dr. Sunil Kaul
Dr. Sunil Kaul completed his MBBS in Pune and served as a medical doctor in the army for some years before he went on to become a public health activist. He worked in rural Rajasthan and Assam especially with respect to malaria and T.B.. He is the founding trustee of The Action Northeast Trust (ANT). He has an MSc in Public Health (in Developing Countries) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a faculty member of Institute of Development Action (IDeA). He is also Financial Advisor of Aagor Daagra Afad, Trustee at Lowcost Standard Therapeutics, consultant to Community Health Initiative of Meghalaya, Rural Development Society and Advisor (Assam) to the Commissioners for Right to Food.
He lives in Rowmari in Bodoland, Assam
For those who will look for public health in this essay and see a political argument, may do well to know that the social determinants of health are always amenable to good or bad politics. For example, to spend 24% of the annual budget on military and police while spending only 1.3% on public health measures is a political decision that makes us so vulnerable to public health emergencies. Similarly, responding to this Corona pandemic by listening to great clinicians instead of pubic health experts who understand rural distress and the social determinants of health is as much a political decision. Testing the members of one religious congregation and not the others’ meetings may also be political. Rudolf Virchow, the celebrated nineteenth century German physician wisely said, “Politics is nothing but medicine at a larger scale!”
The media is currently rife with the debate about the exorbitant billing made by a five-star hospital in Delhi to the father of a young girl who succumbed to her brief illness. But is it the right debate? Are those throwing stones at the hospital not the kind who go to private hospitals themselves? Is it okay if private care is affordable and not exorbitant? At an individual level, I do not and would not like to ever submit myself to private health care. It is because I believe that medical care must never be treated as a commodity and must be available to every human equally.
To keep our children malnourished, worse than what sub-Saharan Africa manages to do with much worse poverty, must take special levels of insensitivity or callousness for a country like India which has enough money to be the largest importer of weapons and having an arsenal of nuclear weapons of its own!
Recently, the American College of Physicians (ACP) recognised Hate Crimes as a Public Health issue… What we doctors in India, need to learn from them? While a Modi-fied government seems to be pushing India’s public health into private hands thanks to its belief in unleashing India’s economy in the same style as the US does for its medical services, isn’t it surprising that none of us can imagine our premier physicians’ organisation, the Indian Medical Association taking up such a cause even in the next few decades! In fact, if history teaches us lessons, what we learn is that a large chunk of its leadership which is right-wing, may actually aid and abet the hate!