Seminar on “The Right to Health”

September 14, 2017

Reported by
Dr. Jugal Kishore, Director, Professor, and Head
Dr. Kriti Gangwar, Postgraduate MD Student in Community Medicine, VMMC & SJH New Delhi

The Department of Community Medicine of Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, in collaboration with Center for Inquiry India, organized a seminar discussing the sensitive and often neglected issue of “The Right to Health.”

The event was organized on December 3, 2015, at Lecture Theater of Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, New Delhi.

(Front row from right to left: N. Innaiah, Jugal Kishore, Kuldeep Kumar, Vidya Bhushan Rawat; back row: Dr. Priyanka Hemrajani and others are seen) —photography by Kimi

Introduction: Health is often not looked upon as a “right” by the common public primarily because the direct effect of ill health is felt at a personal level. However, in some instances—especially those pertaining to mass events such as disasters or epidemics—suddenly the public expects the government to miraculously fight and win over the situation, shrugging away any personal responsibility whatsoever. Obviously, both approaches are flawed, and while we highlight “Health for All” we must also highlight “Health by All.”

It is imperative for us all—common public and health care providers alike—to understand that health is a right of every citizen and so the government and service providers must strive hard to provide it. However, in order to enjoy a right we must all own our responsibilities and thus each one of us must acknowledge our role in our own well-being and in the well-being of the society to which we belong, which is directly and intimately affected by our actions.

The seminar on The Right to Health was aimed at raising some of these issues.

Participants: The seminar was attended by undergraduate and postgraduate students from the host college, as well as from a few more medical colleges such as Lady Harding Medical College, Nightingale College of Nursing, Sharda University, Maulana Azad Medical College, and Army Medical College. There were four eminent speakers from different areas of work and expertise who shared their views and enlightened the audience. Mr. J. Laxmi Reddy, retired professor of Hindi, Delhi University; Ms. Kimi, freelancer photographer; and Mr. Rohit from Drug Today were also present.

Issues discussed: the seminar was very holistic and had a unique take on the relatively less-highlighted determinants of health. It drew attention to the sensitive relationship between childhood and health in its delicately detailed discussion on not just children’s right to health but also on the effect of deprivation of the same on a child’s health later in life.

We all know that there is an army of doctors, nurses, and paramedics working relentlessly toward better healthcare. However, what is exactly provided as a “right” to the people is given in the constitution. There are various laws that protect the citizens against potential harm while safeguarding the medical fraternity in their decision to not provide a certain service in certain circumstances. A very good example of this is the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. While a rape victim has the right to abortion, a person asking for the same to simply get rid of a pregnancy cannot force a doctor to do so by calling it a “right.” This also safeguards the unborn child and deems him/her a citizen of the country with the constitution backing him/her up. While the above-mentioned issues can be extrapolated globally, India, being the diverse nation that it is, has certain unique problems as well. Such issues stem from the endless variety of culture coexisting in the country. The seminar also addressed these sociocultural determinants of the right to health and of its denial.

Lastly, the various legal aspects of health were discussed. Laws related to patency, the role of pharmaceutical companies, and right to health were presented by the speaker in a very lucid manner.

(Vidya Bhushan Rawat addressing the audience in a seminar on The Right to Health)

The speakers: The audience was fortunate to be among eminent people from various areas of expertise. A writer and a humanist, Dr. Innaiah Narisetti has been a long-time journalist for several Telegu and English magazines. He is also the former chairman of the Center for Inquiry India. An MD and PhD in philosophy, he spoke about child rights and how denial of the same often has health implications.

Dr. Kuldeep Kumar from the Department of Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and a panel member in AIIMS Centre for Excellence for Extra Pulmonary Tuberculosis, spoke about the constitutional provisions of the right to health and how it is linked with the medical profession. He highlighted the importance of the Bhore Committee and the shortcomings in the medical care due to lack of constitutional support. He stressed that knowledge of the constitution must be imparted to the students so that they grow into well informed adults who understand their rights and know how to enjoy them.

(N. Innaiah is addressing the audience in a seminar on The Right to Health)

The sociocultural determinants of exploitation of the right to health were explored by Mr. Vidya Bhushan Rawat. He is a human rights activist with an MA in English and masters in mass communication. While he accepted the lack of medical facilities, he also brought out the flip-side of the coin—superstitions and faith-healing. He said that while faith was important to assist healing by calming the patient and providing “hope,” faith-healing is a plague that denies many people, especially women, their right to proper medical care in many areas of the country.

Finally, the legal aspects of the “right to health” were discussed by Dr. V.K. Ahuja, Faculty of Law at Delhi University.

Conclusion: The seminar was an extremely interesting event that helped us to broaden our perspective. It highlighted that health is a national duty, and that a fine understanding of the various factors determining both access to, and utilization of, the services is required for us, as a nation, and as global citizens, to ensure that we carry it out.