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Analysis

Bit tragedy, empty rhetoric

To prevent more Gorakhpurs, shake off the apathy and fix India’s broken public healthcare

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In the wake of over 70 encephalitis-afflicted children dying after the oxygen supply at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Hospital was cut off following a payment dispute, the stage has been set for a rigorous debate on criminal negligence and public health spending. Initiatives such as Swachh Bharat and Mission Indradhanush, though commendable, advance the notion that India’s public health landscape is positively transforming. However, it is too soon to celebrate.

Tragedies such as the mass deaths in Gorakhpur, or more recently in Farrukhabad which claimed 49 newborns, remind us of the reality of India’s abysmal public health situation and raise deeply troubling questions on India’s priorities in its run-up to becoming a superpower.

An outstanding debt of Rs 70 lakh on a prominent state-run institution served an instant death sentence to children. The government’s claims that it hadn’t known of the oxygen shortage until August 4 have been contradicted by a recent newspaper report, according to which UP ministers had been made aware of the debt and the subsequent punitive cutting off of oxygen supply in March. This continued until August 9, when chief minister Yogi Adityanath visited the hospital and was informed of the situation. However, no urgent action followed.

The same evening, the oxygen supply was cut. Thousands of children have died since 1978 when the pestilence first broke out, and the hospital management was as abysmal then as it remains today. It is time to accept that a major overhaul in India’s public health landscape will only be achieved with adequate budget allocations – a move only possible when we confront our own apathy and move beyond empty rhetoric.

Since 1978, right around monsoons when encephalitis strikes, people from in and around Gorakhpur, other neighbouring districts, and even Bihar and Nepal, teem outside the hospital as it is the only institution providing treatment for the disease. However, the hospital does not have enough trained doctors, beds, or ventilators, and it hasn’t had these for a while now. Despite the dire circumstances BRD spent Rs 426.13 crore out of its total fund of Rs 452.35 crore and was still 27% short of clinical equipment, according to a CAG report.

Since many people (mostly rural poor) have to travel miles to reach the hospital – often critical cases requiring an immediate response – many patients succumb to the disease on their way to the hospital. In 2013, on the recommendations of an independent research team, several treatment facilities were set up near villages to provide immediate care to critical patients, but were unable to function as anticipated. As a result, 40 years and numerous deaths later, BRD remains the only facility catering to patients of the deadly disease, even as it is severely under-staffed and ill-equipped to tackle one of India’s deadliest public health challenges.

According to rural health statistics for 2015, there was a 37.7% shortfall of doctors in UP. Doctors at BRD knew oxygen would ultimately run out 10 days in advance when the supply was cut off, and no steps to arrange for backup were taken. This can only be described as criminal negligence of the highest order.

The disease is commonly referred to in India as Japanese encephalitis. However, the term only represents select cases of encephalitis caused by the JE pathogen. WHO has coined the broader term acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) to refer to a cluster of illnesses with similar symptoms.

Many cases in the Gorakhpur belt have displayed symptoms common with JE albeit without the presence of the JE virus. The other pathogens could be the West Nile virus, dengue virus, Chandipura virus and chikungunya virus – all known to cause AES. However, over the years, India’s focus has been on the eradication of JE while other forms of encephalitis remain comparatively neglected.

As a result, while the number of JE cases have reduced, the havoc of undiagnosed encephalitis continues. In 2015, the Indian Council of Medical Research found that from over 10,000 cases of encephalitis, only 8.4% were of the JE strain. While several independent research teams have carried out research to understand the disease in its entirety and presented often conflicting findings, no concrete diagnosis for the “other aetiology” encephalitis has been found.

Without diagnosis, it is impossible to devise any practical preventive strategies. Forty years down the line, it is high time for a more stringent, research-driven focus on the other causes of AES.

With no significant allocation of funds towards public health, and the poor state of health infrastructure in the country, economically disenfranchised people are forced to turn to private healthcare which leaves them penniless and in debt. There is a need to spend a significantly higher proportion of our GDP on public health, make public health more accessible to the poor by investing in more facilities, improve the quality of healthcare by increasing human resource and training them well and regularly, monitor the public and private health sectors to ensure quality health services for all.

When we thump our chests and speak of development for progress of the nation, do we forget that people make the nation and not the other way round? If by development we mean skyscrapers, wealth, health and privilege for some (but certainly not all), what kind of nationalism are we buying into? So long as our medical facilities continue to languish, and our people continue to perish due to sheer negligence, our patriotism rings hollow.

(Credit: This Article is published on The Time of India Dated 05/09/2017)

The Author is former Union Minister and Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Analysis

Saab is interested in Indian fighter jet deal: Swedish official

The Saab Gripen will be contesting with the likes of the Russian MiG 35, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A 18 and Lockheed Martin F-16 for the upcoming deal.

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Rafale deal scam

Amid the raging controversy over the Defence Ministry’s procurement of the Rafale fighter aircraft from French firm Dassault Aviation, a senior Swedish official has said that his country’s firm Saab, in its Gripen aircraft, has the requisite experience to contest for the upcoming Indian deal for manufacturing 110 new fighter jets under the Make in India programme.

“I know that Saab is interested, they want to be a part of this procurement,” Teppo Tauriainen, Director General for Trade in the Swedish Foreign Ministry, told IANS in an interview here.

“They think they have something good to offer that will be of interest to India,” Tauriainen said.

“They, of course, know what the expectations of the government is in terms of local production and cooperation with a local partner.”

India is expected to select by the end of this year one fighter aircraft that will be manufactured by the private sector under the Make in India programme for supply to the Indian Air Force.

The Saab Gripen will be contesting with the likes of the Russian MiG 35, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A 18 and Lockheed Martin F-16 for the upcoming deal.

While MiG has already said that it will have state-owned Hindustan Aeronautic Limited (HAL) as its local partner, Indian companies like Tata, Reliance Defence, Mahindra and Adani are in the fray for local partners in the project that is expected to be worth over $20 billion (Rs 1.44 lakh crore).

Tauriainen said that for Saab, contesting for the deal will be nothing new as it has signed a similar deal for Gripen with the Brazilian government with Embraer as its local partner.

“I have myself visited the Brazilian partner, Embraer, and seen there are a lot of spin-offs locally in the Brazilian economy from this fighter jet deal,” he said.

“So, I think for Saab, as a company, it won’t be unusual to do it the way the Indian government wants it to happen.”

During his visit to Sweden in April this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that defence and security have emerged as an important pillar of the India-Sweden bilateral partnership.

“Sweden has been a partner of India in the defence sector for a long time. I am confident new opportunities for cooperation in this sector will arise in the future, especially in defence production,” Modi said.

During that visit, an India-Sweden Partnership was also announced with a fund of 50 million Swedish kronor (around $5.6 million) for innovation cooperation in the fields of smart cities and sustainability.

Asked what steps have been taken in this connection, Tauriainen said that the dialogue for these projects has started though none of these projects have started operating.

“But we have come quite far to identify areas where we think there is a potential to do cooperation,” he said.

He said that sustainable technology is a broad area and is very much related to how cities are built in terms of transport, energy, waste and waste water.

“There we have some interesting experiences and I hope that is of relevance to India,” Tauriainen said.

“Some technologies we have already tested in Sweden. Other technologies will have to be adapted to Indian conditions,” he added.

In Sweden, waste is actually used to generate power and only one per cent of the waste goes to the landfill.

Asked about the presence of around 180 Swedish companies in India and their role in the Indian economy, Tauriainen said these are doing good business despite “some limitations”.

“They wouldn’t mind if those limitations are taken away. But they are interested in the Indian market and most of them are interested in expanding,” he said.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Chicago Congress: Paeans to Hindu unity in shadow of ‘nemesis’ long deceased

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Mohan Bhagwat

At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, (which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him.

(Ashok Easwaran is an American journalist of Indian origin. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Opinionated women not easily accepted in our country: Jwala Gutta

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Jwala Gutta

New Delhi, Sep 18 : She remembers the time when some of her seniors gave statements that she can’t play badminton but that made Jwala Gutta more determined and she went on to win both Junior and Senior Nationals in the same year.

The former Badminton player Jwala Gutta says that she always spoke her mind and that it didn’t go down well with some sections of the society. She also feels that the country is still very reluctant to accept an opinionated woman.

Gutta is one of the seven influences who is part of fourth edition of Levi’s #IshapeMyWorld movement that celebrates unstoppable women who have shaped their lives on their own terms.

In the video, the retired left-handed Indian badminton player can be seen expressing how some of her seniors gave statements that was not in her favour. When asked about it, she told IANS over an e-mail, “My focus was always on my goals and I never got affected by the things they said. My game and performance answered for me. The same year I did not only win the junior nationals but also won the senior nationals.”

She feels that #IShapeMyWorld is all about living on your own terms and being unstoppable, which she believes in too.

“I have never compromised on my principles or changed for anyone. I never wasted time getting affected by the negative things people had to say and rather used all my energy and focus to better my game,” said Gutta, who was also awarded the Arjuna Award, India’s second highest sporting honour for her achievements.

So is a woman with opinion not taken well in sports as well?

“The scene in sports is getting much better these days. The players are being recognised and appreciated for their performance in various sports. As for woman raising voices, I think an opinionated woman is still not very easily acceptable in our country,” she said.

Gutta started playing badminton at the age of six. In 2000, aged 17, she won the Junior National Badminton Championship and in the same year she also won the Women’s Doubles Junior National Championship and the Senior National Badminton Championship, both in partnership with Shruti Kurien.

Her other achievements include bronze medal at 2011 BWF World Championships in London, and a gold and silver at 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games respectively in the women’s doubles event which were the first for the country in the discipline.

She also won the historic bronze medal at the 2014 Thomas & Uber Cup held at New Delhi, a bronze medal at Badminton Asia Championships in the same year and final and semi-final appearances in many big international events.

Talking about the hurdles intially, she said: “When I took up doubles, I was surrounded by a lot of criticism. Even my parents thought that I wasn’t making the right choice, but like I said before, I believe in myself and my skills and it was important for me to make a difference.”

Gutta says that she is a straight-forward person and does not believe in manipulating an individual in any way.

“Sports was never just a hobby for me, it was a profession from the very beginning. I don’t believe that I have made any sacrifices. I gave up on certain things for something that I enjoyed the most…. I don’t think there is anything wrong in speaking your mind. Every individual should be free to express their opinions. I think what should be looked at is the medals I have won for my country,” she said.

In the video, Gutta is also seen talking about the “hypocritical society”.

“If there is a sportsman and he is stylish and glamorous, nobody asks him, but if a sports woman is stylish or glamorous, she is questioned. Why can’t we just be looked at as a sports person,” said Gutta who has also supported some social causes, including women empowerment issues, anti-tobacco and anti-zoo campaigns.

She has also been involved in many other campaigns including Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and has also launched the Indian Badminton League’s (IBL) school programme ‘Shuttle Express’ in Pune, for school children.

Finally her take on female badminton players?

“I want to wish them all the best because this is the golden time for women in sports, especially badminton. Our players are shining through and doing a great job. They just need o focus on their game and not think of external factors that distract them from putting on the best performance they can,” said Gutta who is currently enjoying her time spent with family and friends along with a lot of travelling.

(Nivedita can be contacted at [email protected])

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