Medical ethics

Tainted former Medical Council of India chief installed as chief of the World Medical Association

The CBI had arrested Desai and three others in 2010 for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore to grant recognition to a medical college in Punjab.

On Friday, former Medical Council of India chief Dr Ketan Desai, who had been arrested six years ago on charges of corruption, was installed as the president of the World Medical Association for 2016-’17 at a meeting in Taiwan.

The Central Bureau of Investigation had arrested Desai and three others in 2010 for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore to grant recognition to a medical college in Punjab. The Supreme Court stayed the proceedings in this case. The CBI also booked Desai in another corruption case in Lucknow, but a special CBI court dropped charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy against him after it failed to obtain mandatory sanction from the government to prosecute him.

Desai had been elected to the post of president of the World Medical Association in 2009 , but his inauguration was suspended after his 2010 arrest. In 2013, after the Indian Medical Association defended Desai's credibility, the global body decided to lift the suspension of his appointment.

The World Medical Association represents millions of physicians worldwide and was created to “ensure the independence of physicians” and “to work for the highest possible standards of ethical behavior and care by physicians”, according to its website. Its members include medical associations from 112 countries.

The association’s spokesperson, Nigel Duncan, told Reuters that the association had nothing to say about the charges of corruption against Desai. sent Desai an email seeking his response, which is awaited. This article will be updated once he responds.

Strong IMA support

The Indian Medical Association website has published a congratulatory message at Desai’s taking charge at the global body.

“The court case has nothing to do with this appointment,” said Indian Medical Association chief, Dr KK Aggarwal.

He added: “There is only one case left and that is stayed before the Supreme Court. He has never been convicted.”

In January, the Indian Medical Association issued a “white paper” on Desai, which explains the various allegations against him.

Authored by Aggarwal, the white paper says:

“IMA [Indian Medical Association] is clearly of the view/stand that unless any doctor member is convicted of any offence, he cannot be made to suffer any adversity or prejudice because of any charge sheet.”

Aggarwal said, “I am proud that IMA now has a world representative.”

In his inaugural speech as president of the global body, Desai said that professional honesty and integrity is at stake in many countries, and added that the medical profession needed transparency. “All referrals and prescriptions should be transparent,” he said.

Activists outraged

Health rights activists who had attempted to block Desai from taking over as head of the global body blamed the Indian Medical Association for fraudulently representing the urologist.

“It was very difficult for us,” said Dr Abhay Shukla of the National Alliance for Ethical Practices. “This lobbying was done at a global level.”

Dr Kunal Saha, who lives in the US and heads the non-profit, People for Better Treatment, has been fighting against Desai’s appointment to the global body since 2010.

His latest letter, dated October 16, was to the outgoing president of the World Medical Association, Professor Micheal Marmot. In the email, Saha asked Marmot to ensure that Desai did not assume the position of president of the organisation as it would send a “wrong signal to the people and undermine the fundamental dignity of the medical community at large”.

The appointment "is nothing less than a sheer atrocity that will send a strong demoralizing message to the ordinary people and hapless patients of India”, Saha said in the email.

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