Veteran parliamentarian walks down memory lane *Healthcare in India is sick?

May 18, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

New Delhi, May 14, 2012: The oldest living parliamentarian was honored by President Pratibha Patil on the occasion of 60 years of parliament.

Believe it or not there was a time when Members of Parliament came to the august house on bicycles.

This was revealed by Rishang Keishing, one of the two living members of the first parliament in 1952.

“Unlike today when MPs come in swanky cars, those days only ministers came in Ambassador cars.”

The oldest living parliamentarian was honored by President Pratibha Patil today on the occasion of 60 years of parliament.

The nonagenarian says parliament and Delhi were then “totally different” from what they are now.

Keishing, elected to the first Lok Sabha from Manipur, is still a parliamentarian at 92, now in the Rajya Sabha.

He is also a staunch Christian, and has helped many churches in his home state of Manipur. Keishing regularly speaks in churches and is a much adored orator.

The three-time Manipur chief minister says, “Had we followed in the footsteps of our elders, we would have been the greatest nation by now.”

The freedom fighter fondly remembers how he was once taken to Parliament Street police station for violating a traffic rule while cycling to Connaught Place.

Keishing doesn’t believe that the posse of cars parked on parliament’s premises nowadays is a sign of progress. “Those were the days,” he kept saying, explaining how “leaders made sacrifices for the nation and worked in the people’s interests”.

“We needed to follow in the footsteps of our great leaders. We could have become the world leader today, not only as the biggest democracy by size but also the best in quality.”

He regretted that contemporary political culture was “strange” and that nation-building was not the foremost priority of most parties.

“It is sad that some people purchase votes. People have become corrupt. I keep telling the leaders to do something about it.”

“The leaders in those days had no self-interest. Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru), (Maulana Abul Kalam) Azad, (Sardar Vallabhbhai) Patel, (Ram Manohar) Lohia… they always thought of the nation. Panditji took special care of the people of the border areas, such as the Northeast. Indiraji too felt the same way.”

Asked about the daily disruption in parliament, Keishing says: “In the initial days, every minute was used (in furthering) the nation’s interests. Something strange is happening now. You always see a group shouting, moving towards the well. Nobody shouted those days. If we managed to catch the attention of the Speaker, we would speak. If you were not fortunate that day, you waited for another chance.”

He recalled how every member listened to Nehru and other senior leaders with rapt attention. “I was an Opposition member at that time, in the Socialist Party, but we all had the highest regard for the Congress leaders. They were our heroes and we treasured them in our hearts. And they behaved with such dignity, responding to every query from the Opposition leaders,” Keishing says.

“Nehruji used to personally interact with every member and took care to explain his point of view.” Parliament was rather like a shrine, and the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman were “like priests”. There were debates but no fighting, says the veteran leader.

“I witnessed this even in the third Lok Sabha. Once our leader Raj Narain wanted to disrupt the presidential address to the joint session if (President) Radhakrishnan didn’t speak in Hindi, but we overruled him. We said we would not join in disruption.”

Keishing, who shared his experiences with the other MPs today along with another member of the first Lok Sabha, Resham Lal Jangde, remembers walking up to Nehru one day during the China conflict 50 years ago.

He told the Nehru he wanted to join the Congress as the border states could not survive without central help. Nehru immediately summoned senior leader Ramsevak Singh and asked him to enrol Keishing right there.

“When I came to Delhi in 1952, I was only 32. Although I had studied in Calcutta, I had never seen a building like this (parliament House).” It’s not a place where elected representatives should come to “waste time”, Keishing concludes.

– telegraphindia

Healthcare in India is sick?


New Delhi, May 16, 2012: The writer sheds light on country’s health care system.

Public Health has been modern India’s biggest failure. The prime minister has recently said that the 12th Plan will be a “health plan.”

If the Republic of India actually knelt at a confessional, what would she say to the people India? Here we go.

Forgive me, my people, for I have sinned. My biggest failure has been in the area of protecting you, my people, from ill health and malnutrition.

The policies and practices I have adopted have resulted in us having the highest number of underweight children in the world. Why are children malnourished? Because as they grow they fall ill and their parents cannot afford the treatment offered in the country.

Forgive me, my people, I have consistently and over the years allocated very little money for public health. So little is given that it is a miracle we have a public health system at all. At 200 rupees per capita per year, what miracle do we expect?

Forgive me for I have trained far less doctors and nurses than needed. The ones I have trained have moved on so that Europeans and Americans do not sneeze. The rest have concentrated themselves in the cities, so much so there are less than two doctors for a population of 10,000 people in our villages. In the cities there are 11 doctors for 10,000 people.

Forgive me, my people, for you spend more money from your pocket to meet your health needs than any other comparable country. I have not had the vision of a Ghana or the courage of a Thailand or the imagination of Brazil or Indonesia in putting together a health system that works for my people.

For each episode of ill health, you, my people, especially the poor among you, are pushed further into poverty.

My dear people, since you have to spend from your pocket, about 23 percent of you do not access care at all because you cannot afford it. About 40 percent of you slide below the poverty line after a single hospitalization.

Most of your health expenditure, I know, is made out of your savings, and a large part of the amount is borrowed.

Nearly 80 percent of outpatient and 60 percent of hospital care is through private providers. (NSS 60th Round). Because I have not given you a government health system that works for you.

I know that the cost of private health care especially for outpatient care is striking: It is nearly 22 times the amount of public health facilities in the rural areas and over 40 times in the urban areas. The personal and family expenditure in seeking health care is rising incredibly and I still do not know how to stop it.

In Rajasthan, for instance, an alarming average of 89.4 percent of household health expenditure is on drugs. At least 30 to 40 percent of people are unable to afford these drugs.

One reason why you, and especially the poor among you, spend more money is because I have allowed 92,000 drug formulations to be produced and marketed without a conscience, while only 350 are required. No other country in the world manufactures these many brands. This has led to irrational use of drugs and irrational manufacturing, prescription and dispensing.

I seek forgiveness from you for the Indian pharmaceutical industry, which makes high profits from ignorant and hapless consumers and for my failure to rationalize them.

I seek forgiveness for our doctors, who as prescribers willingly abet this by prescribing certain brands of medicine instead of giving the option of cheaper non-branded drugs.

I once again seek forgiveness from you, the poor who suffer the most, because you have neither the purchasing power to obtain the drugs nor are you aware of your choices. Very little I have done either to add to your knowledge or resources.

I specially seek the forgiveness of the 13 percent of India’s population who actually incurs “catastrophic spending.”

When households have to spend 10 percent of their total income on healthcare it is considered catastrophic spending.

I have now gone ahead and closed down several of our vaccine manufacturing units in the public sector, another crime that will escalate our immunization costs. Let me seek your pardon for that, too.

I collect a lot of health data. I do not analyze them, I do not make them available where it is required because health and caste are related; health and poverty are related things which I do not want actually show to the public. I am guilty of not employing the collected data to correct the system; not employing the data to target specific vulnerable groups.

My guilt increases when I hear how other countries have tackled the issue. Ghana, a country in southern Africa, has a system of universal access to medicine, i.e. free or cashless medicine to everyone in Ghana. The country does not have a production capacity and imports most of its drugs from India. It still has such a scheme of free medicine accessibility. I am ashamed.

Forgive me, my people, for I have sinned.

Augustine Veliath is the founder director of Listeners’ Institute, New Delhi. He recently retired from UNICEF.

– ucan

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