The top official of the Central government’s apex healthcare agency has called global health activists “unstable” and “mentally unwell” when they asked India to implement programmes for ending tubercu
The top official of the Central government’s apex healthcare agency has called global health activists “unstable” and “mentally unwell” when they asked India to implement programmes for ending tuberculosis (TB).
Director general of health services (DGHS) Dr Jagdish Prasad, who is attending the 47th Union World conference on lung health at Liverpool, said he was not “bothered by the activists”. “My conscience is clear. We don’t want to discuss our problems in a foreign land. Activists here are mentally unwell. I will not talk to them. They have no value for me,” he said.
Angered by the response of the DGHS, who come under the Narendra Modi government’s health ministry, activists have decided to involve the international community.
“There are many of us working in the US, the UK, throughout Europe and China, countries where India is looking to turn for broader friendship,” Dr Jennifer J. Furin, lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, told this newspaper. “We will make sure the governments of those countries are aware what their links to India could mean, so that they feel embarrassed on continuing to engage with the Indian government,” Dr Furin said.
Dr Furin was among the activists who stormed into the session by the Indian government where the DGHS was applauding the country’s “achievements” in tackling TB.
Dr Prasad, however, did not move an inch. “In India, if a son wants to marry it can take six months for the family to decide, same is for policies,” he said. “The bureaucracy has delayed things but at least it is happening. There are lots of ifs and buts in the system and I don’t want to discuss them here,” he said.
Dr Furin said the activists did not expect such a response from a serving government official. “Any type of response that involves insulting people who are actively trying to speak for those who don’t have access to care is troubling. It speaks that the government is not prepared to listen to the needs of the people,” she said.
Erica Lessem, director of TB/HIV project in Treatment Action Group, condemned the Indian official’s attitude. “Letting 1,400 Indians die of TB each day and not providing basic services such as daily treatment for TB... is not only unstable, it is criminal,” Ms Lessem said.
“Yet multiple appeals from patients and calls from Indian civil society over the past months and years have been ignored. The global TB community’s appeals letters, tweets, emails and articles have similarly had no effect,” she added.
A Twitter campaign #brokenTBpromises by TAG launched on August 1 this year claims India has failed to implement policies and programmes needed to end TB in the country.