Amit Sengupta wore many hats including being convenor of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan or the People's Health Movement, besides representing the Delhi Science Forum. And his scientific temperament came through in the dissection of policies and regulatory issues involving healthcare, patents and intellectual property and drug pricing.

Under-pinning Sengupta’s arguments in all these segments was his advocacy for public health. A call for greater public sector participation in healthcare, through government-aided hospitals or public sector units, to make medicines for local needs.

Sengupta passed away on Wednesday, at a beach in Goa. News reports suggest that he was found unconscious in the water after he was last seen by lifeguards swimming close to the shore. A post-mortem would be conducted today, The Hindu said, in a report from Goa. Sengupta was 60, and was in Goa with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary, reports said.

The incident has sent shock waves through the public health community, especially among fellow public health workers who were with Sengupta in Dhaka till about 10 days ago, participating in the 4th People's Health Assembly. They were celebrating 40 years since the Alma Ata declaration, among the earliest international declarations that prioritised primary healthcare.

Late last month, Sengupta had spoken to BusinessLine on the National Health Assembly at Raipur, Chhattisgarh, that had seen the participation of community level workers. They met to assess national health policies and their impact on people at the grass roots, in urban and rural settings.

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“Health is first and foremost a fundamental human right,” Sengupta had then said, calling for a more inclusive definition of healthcare. Their call was for a healthcare framework that went beyond meaning “the absence of disease” to include, instead, issues like nutrition, gender and social inclusion, all contributory factors to physical, mental and social well-being, he had explained.

“Sengupta was good at discerning trends behind public health decisions,” recalls S. Srinivasan, with the All India Drug Action Network, echoing colleagues sentiments that public health has lost an important voice in Sengupta’s passing.

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Another public health colleague remembers Sengupta as an activist and researcher who worked with mass movements and civil society organisations, even as he promoted new and young activists.

“He engaged with diverse groups, while strongly holding his left-leaning political convictions,” the public health representative said, adding, “he used to say let’s discuss about working together on areas of agreement instead of discussing areas of disagreement.”

Sengupta was always “energetic” and the force behind the Global Health Watch report and the People's Health Movement, besides being a member of the national working group on patent laws, says another co-worker, even as the community grapples with his tragic and sudden loss.

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