Commitment to health care crucial

Author: 
Dr. Arun Mitra

Saddened and disturbed on hearing about the devastation caused by the atom bombs thrown on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi had said "I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women and children as the most diabolical use of science”. "What is the antidote? Has it antiquated non-violence?" No. On the contrary, non-violence is the only thing that is now left in the field. It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind."
It is an irony that instead of learning lesson from the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and abandoning the nuclear weapons programmes globally, it continued unabated and reached its peak during the cold war between USA and Soviet Union in 1980s. There were times when nuclear exchange appeared imminent and fear of the world coming to end loomed large. Huge sums have been spent since then on the nuclear weapons programme, which could have been otherwise spent for the betterment of health of the people worldwide.
As per the latest report of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the annual global defense expenditure is US$ 1699 billion (2.2% of the global GDP). The US tops defence spending at $611 billion. China’s defence expenditure is $215 billion, while India is the 5th largest military spender with an outlay of $55.9 billion (Rs.363350 crore). India’s defence expenditure is 1.62% of its GDP, while its central government's health budget is 0.26 of GDP, which is six times less than its military budget. Pakistan’s spending on arms is equivalent to budgetary allocation $8.9 billion. With Pakistan worth $300 billion economy its defence expenditure comes to 2.9% of the GDP. India ranks number one in arms import with 12% of the total global arms business.
With continuing conflicts in various corners of the world, the danger of use of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out at any flash point. There is sufficient scientific evidence to prove that in the event of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan using about 100 nuclear weapons, over 2 billion people could be out at risk of starvation as a result of climatic consequences. And such a war between the US and Russia with thousands of nuclear weapons could be end of modern civilization.
But there is a strong and powerful hope. The UN General Assembly passed a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons (TPNW) on 7th July 2017 with 122 votes in favour and only one against. This happened despite tremendous pressure on these countries by the big nuclear power states. This indeed is a big achievement for the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons (ICAN) which had worked hard to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and convince the world community of catastrophic threat for something which they are not responsible for.
It is in this context that it was decided to organize mass campaigns in the nuclear weapons possessing countries to convince them to join the treaty. An international seminar held in Delhi on 24th and 25th March is an important and relevant step in that direction.
The campaigners had planned a dialogue with decision makers and sought appointment with the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and the External Affairs Minister of India over six months back. But ironically none of the ministries responded. The only response came from the chairman of Parliamentary standing committee on defence Maj. Gen. (Retd) B C Khanduri. In a telephonic talk on the of appointment he confirmed the meeting, but just after one hour of this telephonic conversation backed out citing health causes.
This apathetic behaviour of the Indian government, refusing to meet the international delegation of doctors representing prestigious Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, is against the very basic values of our country, which keeps guests in high esteem- Atithi Devo Bhava. It is not clear why the government is so much afraid of the disarmament movement. The government should be ready to have a dialogue, not run away from it. The Indian government should not only be part of the larger objective of nuclear disarmament but also convince others to follow.
Diversion of funds from arms race to health care system in our country is the need of the hour. Healthcare in our country has never been in so much crisis as today. This is despite the fact that our country has progressed in all fields since Independence and we aspire to be among top economies in the global arena. To strengthen our health care system we have built many advanced tertiary care centers, which offer world class high-tech care. These hospitals also attract many patients from outside India for cost effective treatment and have become a source of medical tourism earning foreign currency to our country. But in the process we have failed to realize that only a little percentage of our population can afford such healthcare. They will remain devoid of modern health care facilities unless the government strengthens public health care delivery system through more spending on health. But our public spending on health in state sector has been abysmally low. There is thus urgent need to divest funds from arms race to health, education and development. Disarmament is the key, nuclear disarmament more so. (IPA)

Wednesday, 11 April, 2018