By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
This is the second part of my conversation with Dr Manisha Bangar in which she speaks about the health crisis in India and how the government is trying to privatise things, how our response during the Corona period was lacking things. She also gives us an understanding of people opposing nutritious meals for children in the mid-day meal.
Who is Dr Manisha Bangar?
Dr Manisha Bangar is a practising Senior Consultant Gastroenterologist and Transplant Hepatologist, with around 20 years of clinical cum research and teaching experience. In terms of her medical qualification, she completed MBBS, MD and DM. She was also a governing council member of the Indian National Association for Study of the Liver (INASL), and a member of the Task Force for Hepatitis B and NASH disease of the South Asian Association for Study of the Liver (SAASL). Interestingly,
Dr Manisha Bangar, despite her professional occupations, has been actively engaged in social as well as political activities.
She contested from the Nagpur parliamentary constituency in 2019 on the People’s Party of India’s ticket. She was appointed as the National Vice President of the People’s Party of India in November 2018 and is also a former National Vice President, BAMSCEF. She is actively involved in socio-cultural movements that strengthen Bahujan communities as well as helping build alternative media.
When the lockdown was announced by prime minister Narendra Modi last year in March asking people to ‘bajao thali’, light torch or diyas and clap for the ‘frontline’ workers so that ‘Corona’ can be done away with, there were very few in the medical fraternity to speak up openly against it. Most of the doctors and ‘intellectuals’ had virtually surrendered to the powerful government and its propaganda machinery but a Facebook post by Dr Manisha Bangar went viral and got noticed everywhere including, “The Telegraph’ from Kolkata which reproduced the entire post given below:
“Dear Indians! pay no heed to ‘ghantology gyan’ of Modi-Bjp. Please don’t clap for me!!”, Bangar wrote: “I have been attending to patients with severe contaminating infections for two decades and will continue to do so in times of corona but I don’t want anyone to clap for me on 22nd March.
“Instead, as responsible citizens who possess fundamental rights I want you to demand and pressurise the Modi-led BJP government to do the needful:
⚫ Spell out the allocation of disaster relief funds and medical aid strategy for all.
⚫ Get him to combat this by pushing at least double the number of funds that were required for the statute of Sardar Patel.
⚫ Get him to tell corporates and his industrialists whom he let escape or bailed out with your money, that now it’s their turn to bail out the country from the crisis of their own making.
⚫ Declare the tons of gold-silver money looted, hoarded and now accumulated in temples of Tirupati Padmanabhan Shirdi Siddhivinayak Puri and many more as being state treasure to be used in times of such crisis.”
“Who would say ‘No’ to applause? It is heart-warming to have people thank medical professionals. But there is nothing backing it up…. If we fail to control the spread, the government will blame external forces or supernatural powers,” she said.
“I expected clarity from his (Modi’s) speech. He could have said how much funds will be given, assure the public that private hospitals can’t deny them treatment and will have to do testing at the cost the government fixes. Leaders and governments have the information to anticipate. Knowing Indian society and the stratification that exists based on religion, he should have known hoarding will happen and announced steps to deal with it.”
The PM could have at least come out and said that unscientific claims like gaumutra (cow urine) curing the coronavirus infection or the banging of plates chasing away the virus are false… On the contrary, social media handles supportive of the BJP have put out antiquated, religion-coloured ignorant thinking.
(Telegraph on March 22, 2020: https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/threat-to-doctor-who-shunned-claps/cid/1756990 )
This was such an important post that it rightly got the attention of the Telegraph as well as the Facebook users. When the doctors, intellectuals, and political opposition refuse to stand up and speak, such voices become important even if they are less in number.
In the second part of her conversation with me, Dr Manisha Bangar shares her concern particularly the handling of the Mid-Day Meal issues. She says, “most of the children affected with infection, which could be easily managed with safe drinking water which is not there and therefore children have swelling of tummies and bloated feet” she felt that “it is not a disease. It is the manifestation of a failed state. They are not getting enough food to eat. Good education, good drinking water and sanitation is needed.” It is clear that children do not get good food to eat. The Midday meal scheme is faulty. They have their nationalistic agenda and Brahmanical prejudices. The upper caste people are making policies and there is a huge gap”. The fact is that these caste prejudices come in handy in defining our policies. It is clearly visible when dietary things are put in ‘Brahmanical mode’ as you deny eggs and such things to children. She says that if you don’t want to give them meat products then give the children Paneer and two glasses of milk every day.
She says since the advent of the MDM, the thirst was put on pulses, dals. There is no protein in the dals. If you want to give vegetarian food, give them paneer, soya, and two glasses of milk daily. These kinds of things need to be looked into.
Dr Manisha Bangar exposes the ‘PPP’ model: “Accessible health care is the buzz word. Public-private partnership is a buzz word but the fact is it benefits the corporate, upper-caste upper class”.
Her busy schedule has not stopped her from taking up further studies and she has got admission to prestigious Chicago University for studying public policy issues on health. She says, “I wanted to understand public policy issues. I am not from an administration background. but being a doctor and having worked with the community, I wanted that health care is made accessible to Bahujan people and I should be playing a good role.”
Corona exposed our health care system.
She says that Corona has exposed our health care system. It has been a big eye-opener not just for India but for the entire world. The western world has already learnt a lot of lessons but not us. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have done better than us in the health sector. Even Pakistan is doing good now. The budgetary allocation is not even 1% of GDP.
Critical of India’s PPP model, Dr Manisha Bangar categorically says that it was meant to help the crony corporate. Public money was used to support these corporate houses. She says, “Ten big hospitals openly claimed bankruptcy. The loans were given by public sector banks to these hospitals but they were unable to seek accountability from them. It is the revenue department which closed them. No criminal cases were filed against them. No questions were asked. Lots of money was spent on it. What did we get? 70% of the health sector is privatised and it got exposed during Covid.”
Dr Bangar has raised some extremely valid issues which normally go out of our minds. Moreover, only those who are part of the structure or know things so intimately can explain this to us. Most of us, outsider critics of privatisation, often give that these hospitals are money minting machines but we always used to think that the doctors there are good but now Dr Manisha Bangar suggests that things are worse in these private hospitals.
According to her, ‘if they are private then they should work like corporate. Unfortunately, none of these hospitals is giving any social security such as insurance, PPF, etc to their employees. Things are happening because there is no ‘regulatory’ mechanism. As there is no loyalty to any particular institutions’ due to uncertainty, doctors and health workers are moving for ‘better’ options. The biggest casualty in this is the training of these health workers. Today’s corporate hospitals do not have skilled staff because they have no time for training. The same happens to consultants as they move from one place to another. Privatisation has not been delivered. It has in fact put tremendous pressure on health workers as well as doctors’.
Dr Manisha Bangar says that “Health care was never national discourse. Only when the UN and SDGs say then it happens. There is no discourse. They have never spoken about health for all.”
She criticises the government policy of ‘medical tourism’ which is meant to provide ‘cheap’ medical services for the Europeans and Americans while ‘ensuring’ things are ‘out of reach’ for the common Indians. Similarly, she has been extremely critical of insurance schemes such as Arogya Sri and Ayushman Bharat schemes.
“Hospital and insurance companies are conniving with each other. Government money is going to the insurance companies and not really helping the poor. Arogya Sri was a failure. They said we will give it to 50 crore people. The population of people under the Poverty Line i.e., BPL in India is more than 80 crores. This was less than 50%. Instead of strengthening the Public Health system at the PHC level, the government was focussing more on a technology-driven thing. Almost fifty per cent amount given for the salary. There could have been more PHCs, ambulances at tribal areas but the money was actually wasted.
During covid times, things went berserk from the patient point of view and it caused miseries. From the medical staff’s viewpoint and that of the doctors, they were denied insurance. They did not get PPP kits. The government knew precisely, this is a ruling class government and their own kith and kins were handling the private sector. They knew the fault line and hence they wanted to deflect the people into nonsensical things, thali taali and mysticism to deflate pressure from people, says Dr Manisha Bangar.
For more detailed understanding kindly listen to the conversation part-II with Dr Manisha Bangar here at the following link