The curious case of Ketan Desai

| Updated on: Oct 30, 2015
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His supporters want him to take charge as president of World Medical Assn but detractors want him to clear corruption charges, first

Earlier this month, the Indian Medical Association put out a global statement, standing by Ketan Desai, president-elect to the World Medical Association (WMA).

An international body of physicians founded in 1947, the WMA stands for high ethical standards, among other things. Desai is set to take charge at the WMA, same time next year.

But the timing of IMA’s recent statement is just as curious as the backstory to Desai’s ascent, fraught with legal twists and turns. And it comes as no surprise that his WMA appointment brings out strong reactions from the medical community.

While supporters want Desai to take his “rightful place” at the helm of WMA, his detractors say he should be cleared of all allegations of corruption before he becomes the first Indian doctor to head the organisation.

Elected as WMA President in 2009, Desai was restricted from taking charge in 2010 at its General Assembly in Canada due to seven cases registered against him by the Indian government relating to corruption.

“The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) investigated these for over two years and closed the disproportionate asset case, giving him a clean chit from all financial irregularities,” the IMA says.

The WMA General Assembly (2010) agreed with Indian laws that Desai is innocent unless proved guilty, the IMA points out, adding “Dr Desai has never been convicted and deserves his rightful place at the WMA.”

Members of the medical community discuss Desai, but only off record. Those opposing him point to a pending stay order from the Supreme Court and say it’s not yet all clear for Desai. As head of the Medical Council of India, Desai had hit the headlines for taking on drug companies and tightening the screws on the cozy gifting and junket driven relationship between doctors and drug companies. But soon enough, Desai came under the CBI’s gaze for certain approvals from the Medical Council of India to a private college.

Desai has denied allegations against him, in the past. Queries sent to the IMA and Desai by Pulse did not receive a response.

Unimpeachable character?

The WMA top-job is important because its diverse representation from different countries helps improve healthcare delivery across the world, says Kunal Saha, a non-resident Indian doctor who had fought and won a landmark medical negligence case in the Supreme Court.

It would be fitting that a doctor from India (the world’s largest democracy) heads the WMA for the first time, he says. But the real question is not about a doctor from India leading the world medical body but whether that Indian doctor has “an unimpeachable moral and personal character,” explains Saha, President – People for Better Treatment (PBT).

India has almost one million doctors, many making great contributions to the advancement of medical science, he says. “There is certainly no dearth of talented Indian doctors with high reputation and ethical values to lead an organisation like the WMA,” he says, adding that a tainted candidature as the first Indian representative would send a wrong message.

The PBT has filed a Public Interest Litigation on Desai’s WMA appointment and an order is expected in the first week of November.

Published on January 23, 2018

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