The importance of being Dr Ketan Desai

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on January 16, 2018


His appointment as World Medical Association President has evoked extreme reactions

Late last month, the appointment of Ketan Desai as the President of the World Medical Association was publicised by an advertisement in the Delhi edition of a leading English newspaper. Congratulating Desai were top members of the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Desai is a person who evokes extreme reactions in the medical fraternity. And the advertisement was an endorsement by Desai loyalists in the face of allegations of corruption by his detractors.

But even as the WMA stands by its new President, reactions to the appointment range from vocal support to mute discomfort and outright indifference to threats of fresh legal challenges in the Supreme Court.

Expressing discomfort at the appointment, a section of young doctors (who did not want to be named) says that an Indian representative to the WMA should have been someone whose reputation had not been compromised. Especially when India's healthcare and medical system are criticised for corruption and alleged links with drug companies.

Ironically, Desai at one point had been hailed a hero for taking on corrupt practices in the pharmaceutical industry, where doctors were wooed with gifts or junkets.

That image though was punctured when Desai was allegedly caught on a bribery case. The MCI (Medical Council of India), the watchdog body he had headed, has also came in for stinging criticism from a Parliamentary panel. And the MCI has since been prescribed an overhaul.

But the criticism heaped on the MCI and its former-head notwithstanding, Desai is the quintessential come-back man, as he gets appointed to top jobs. Many scratch their heads and wonder, is it Desai’s clout or goodwill?

While Desai has in the past denied allegations against him, WMA’s Nigel Duncan explains the President appointment with: “To the best of our knowledge all criminal charges have been dismissed against Dr Desai.”

Giving a more detailed explantion, IMA’s recently elected President KK Aggarwal says, “Dr Desai has never been convicted.” Desai joined WMA as a nominee of the IMA, and the “IMA does not find any merit in the stayed court case,” he adds, referring to the Delhi Patiala House case, stayed by the Supreme Court.

Unconvinced, Kunal Saha, a non-resident Indian doctor who had fought and won a landmark medical negligence case in the Supreme Court, is planning to challenge Desai’s WMA appointment in the top court. Desai had been arrested as the head of the MCI on bribery and corruption charges and was out on bail after months in jail, he says. From a legal or moral perspective, Desai has no right to be a member of any medical organisation, let alone the WMA whose primary role is to spread ethical practices in medicine, he adds. But CM Gulati, Editor of drug journal MIMS, feels that too much is being made of an appointment to a private body, which is what the WMA is.

With the Desai appointment to the WMA eliciting divergent views, only one thing is clear. The last word is far from heard.

Come back trail

Elected WMA President in 2009, Desai was restricted from taking office in 2010, due to seven corruption cases in India.

Agreeing that Desai is innocent unless proved guilty, the Brazil General Assembly revokes his suspension in 2013. Japan council meeting paves the way for his “reinstallation” in 2016.

Desai has been unanimously elected three times as head of Medical Council of India, and once of the Indian Medical Association.

Source: IMA

Published on November 25, 2016

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