Tag Archives: world

Dear PostModern Gandhi: What Is the Right Response to Coronavirus?

Dear PostModern Gandhiji:

A decade ago, when I was a first-year medical student, I worried that modern medicine and pharmacology were based on animal products.  I had been raised in a strictly vegetarian Jain household and had been taught to respect all living things.  Thus seeing monkeys and dogs in cages used for experiments and dissections disturbed my belief system.

Fast forward to 2020.  First the good news: physician training in American medical schools no longer requires animal dissection. But with the tragic coronavirus pandemic, my old concern about animals seems quite trivial.  It seems that we should do anything and everything to save humans from suffering.

Because I practice sports medicine, I’m not with the frontline of clinicians tending to those with COVID-19.  As such, I’ve been struggling to understand what Gandhiji would be doing if he were alive today.  What should I be doing?

Dear Friend:

Here are a couple of quotes from Gandhiji that you might find of value.  My own sense-making of Gandhian principles follow the quotes.

“There is a divine purpose behind every physical calamity.”

“I do not want my house to be walled in all sides, and my windows to be closed. Instead, I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Thank you for this opportunity to consider Gandhiji’s response to the coronavirus.  I imagine that he would have taken a multi-disciplinary approach.

Young Mohandas Gandhi had been both a trained and untrained nurse.  As a child, he had tended to his ill father by sitting at his bedside and perhaps massaging his father’s head and legs.  As a young man returning to India at the end of the 19th century, he confronted the Bubonic Plague and served his brother-in-law; while the ayurvedic treatments could not save his sister’s husband, he learned something about himself:  “my aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion.”  He famously used this aptitude for the healing profession during the Boer War in South Africa as the founder of the Indian Ambulance Corps.  And through the rest of his life, he nursed himself through many fasts and served those with serious illnesses.  His patients ranged from his wife and other immediate family to members of his ashrams and lepers whose stigmatized condition he championed.  I recall this medical biography to suggest that, as a man of science, Gandhiji would have surely been at the frontline today serving COVID-19 patients in the ER or the ICU. 

But Gandhiji understood that science has its limits.  He wrote, “To state the limitation of science is not to belittle it.”  I imagine that he would have recognized this crisis as an opportunity to head off larger crises. To be sure, he would have used his political talent to support organizations like W.H.O. to mitigate the socio-economic risks of future pandemics. But I believe that Gandhiji’s greatness lies in his multi-generational vision for humanity. The earth – all of it, and all of its creatures – was a Gandhian home.  Not only would Gandhiji have directly faced the respiratory challenges of the coronavirus, but he, also, would have used the present danger to open windows and minds to confront even greater ecological, social, and spiritual catastrophes like climate change, enduring inequality, and cruelty to animals.

Using his tools of satyagraha, swaraj, sarvodaya, and ahimsa, Gandhiji would have encouraged us to be in satyalogue with each other, in truthtalk, about what we’ve learned about ourselves and each other during this pandemic.  

Regarding your question about what you should be doing, I suggest using all of the gifts bestowed upon you from your religious upbringing and your medical studies; kindly consider how you can use that knowledge for your private spiritual growth and our public universal uplift.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza has published a compilation of similar Q&A pieces addressing dilemmas that we face in the 21st century.  His book Satyalogue // Truthtalk is available on Amazon.

World Health Organization: The Lost Genie

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore US President, Donald Trump. Known for not mincing his words and rarely playing diplomatically, he recently tweeted that, Corona Virus is a very bad ‘gift’ from China to the World. 

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266014911127306240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1266014911127306240&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Fworld%2Fvery-bad-gift-from-china-trump-in-his-latest-rant-on-coronavirus-pandemic-6431932%2F

Whatever Trump says or does makes a difference. He has provisionally suspended the funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accused the WHO of being Pro-China, mishandling the Corona Crisis. A few days back he wrote a letter to the Director-General of the WHO, threatening to exit the global organization. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

And now he has finally announced to end US’ relationship with the World Health Organization… 

It is evident in history that whenever any crisis emerges, it challenges all the previously existing structures, organizations, and institutions. A global crisis like COVID-19 is very much capable of either reducing our existing institutions as redundant or tagging them as completely outdated.

Donald Trump has put WHO in an embarrassing spotlight and while, we may or may not agree with him, we also cannot ignore a few basic analysis points.

WHO came into existence on 7th April 1948 and its identity centered around the global population’s health. WHO, as a global health body, should be held liable, accountable, and responsible for missteps regarding the current pandemic.

Covid-19 has threatened the very existence of humanity. The invisible attack has proved that the WHO is not adequate enough for serving Global Health.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, WHO failed to gather timely information with its epidemic surveillance system, and paradoxically praised China for its effort to contain the virus. 

China mislead the World, as well as the WHO, about COVID-19, many global reports clearly suggest. Whistleblowers were targeted by the Chinese government and human-to-human transmission was completely denied, initially. WHO should have kept a close eye on misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

WHO is obligated to inform communities about their rights and obligations with respect to health. Undeniably, acting as ‘Information Intermediary’ is the most vital function of WHO.

If one goes on to analyze the WHO’s Constitution, Article 1, states the objective of WHO is the attainment of the highest possible health for all. Article 2, highlights various functions of WHO, which include taking all ‘Necessary Action’ required to attain the highest possible level of health. Note that, Article 2(q), says that it is the function of WHO to provide information, counsel, and assist in health-related fields. Article 2(r), says that WHO work will be to assist in developing an ‘Informed Opinion’ among all the people about any matter related to health. 

Generally, there are few distinguishing essentials that determine efficient governance by any international organization.

First, the one who leads the organization makes a significant difference. Without a proactive leader, an organization as paramount as WHO may remain inert and passive. This is especially true in WHO’s context, where Article 28(i), authorizes the Director-General of WHO to take all necessary steps to combat epidemics.

Second, what power does the organization has if any member State violates its guidelines or recommendation?

According to the WHO’s constitution, Article 63 mentions that each member shall communicate promptly to WHO on important laws, regulations, official reports, and statistics related to health. Article 64 says that each member shall provide statistical, epidemiological reports in a manner determined by the Health Assembly. And Article 65 points that each member State shall transmit on the request of the Board such additional information pertaining to health.

To ensure the credibility of any organization, it is most important that its guidelines are binding on member States. In case any member violates its mandate, then the organization should have the power to penalize it. 

Lastly, the organization’s source of funding should be transparent and autonomous. Independent sources of funding make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of any organization. Financial autonomy plays a very significant role in making any institution equitable, fair, neutral, and bold in taking decisions. But WHO lacks financial autonomy and transparency in its funding.

USA has been the biggest donor to WHO contributing almost 15 percent of its total Budget under Assessed Contribution, the amount each member State pays to WHO according to the GDP. Over time, the Assessed Contribution has declined and Voluntary Contributions have risen, which include funds from private organizations. This reliance on Voluntary Contributions should be reduced to contain transparency of funding.

One thing that is clear is that the WHO has a GREAT responsibility in global health scenarios. The saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” but the saying holds true the other way around as well. At least some bare minimum power is needed to ensure the efficient working of any institution. If this great responsibility is not complemented with bold, autonomous decision-making power, then failure of such an institution shouldn’t be surprising at all. 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India). 

Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India).


Featured image by Thorkild Tylleskar and license here.

Image of Director-General by ITU Pictures from Geneva, Switzerland and license here.

Cycling Around The World: Somen Debnath

The statistics and the breadth of ambition are daunting to say the very least. 14 year journey which started in 2004. 154,800 km on bike. Traveled through 150 countries. Currently biking in the United States. On his way to Canada through the West Coast. Raising awareness about HIV and AIDS among rural people in India. 

I spoke with Somen Debnath, a cyclist who has broken many an endurance record with his stupendous journey to cover 190 countries one kilometer at a time, reaching his goal of 200,000 km in 14 years. 

I asked him about how this passion started. “When I was 14 years old, a man who lived close to my village died of AIDS. The West Bengal AIDS prevention society carried newspaper articles which pointed out that AIDS could be deadlier than cancer.” This information about the potentially deadly disease stayed with him, as did the circumstances of growing up in a village in Bengal. “About 80 km. from Kolkata, I grew up in the village of Basanti,” while adding, “which is in the middle of the Sundarbans region, where we have mangrove forests and the largest tiger reserve in India.  have always been inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings directed towards Then, I read Bimal Mukherjee’s book – Du Chakay Duniya where he describes using a bicycle to travel the world for eleven years. His trip started in 1926. Reading this book made a deep impression on me, since I had always wanted to see and experience many places in India and all over the world too. I was raised in the forests. From there, it was my desire that has taken me to so many places across the world.”

When I ask him about the condition of his bike, he told me that this was the eighth bike that he is using. This bike was gifted to him by Indian-Americans living in Texas, and with that he reached California. From here, he planned to go to Portland in Oregon and onto Seattle in Washington. From there, it would be northwards to Canada, the North Pole and then through Siberian Russia. He commenced this journey in May of 2014 and hopes to end it in India in December of 2020 after a journey of 16 years. 

When asked to name his most interesting experiences, he said that traveling through Bangladesh, being captured by the Taliban for 24 days and seeing wild animals like rhinos, cheetahs and lions wandering around in the African grasslands were unforgettable. He also said that his trip elicited a lot of curiosity among people all over, with kindness and empathy coming next, helping him tide over to the next part of the trip. 

“Indians all over and Indian-Americans have been very kind to me, welcoming me with open arms. Everyone can help me through monetary donations and by keeping track of my trip by going to my website at https://www.somen2020world.com/

Pedal up and pedal down. One kilometer at a time; 200, 000 km in 16 years. What passion!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing editor of India Currents magazine.