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Carving hope from despair



Some success stories here... Subhadra Menon in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

IT WAS an evening dedicated to stories of hope and despair. At the India Habitat Centre's Gulmohar hall, where Subhadra Menon's book "No Place to Go - Stories of Hope and Despair from India's Ailing Health Sector" was released by Penguin this week. And often the speakers - including Neelam Krishnamoorthy of the Association of the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy; Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, Head, Department of Cardiology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Dr. Anupam Sibal, Director, Medical Services, Apollo Indraprastha Hospital, and others - admitted there was more despair than hope when it came to the average Indian's ability to secure decent, affordable health care.

Some, like Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Director-General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research were contagiously inspiring. "When I was young, I used to see Hindi movies. The last 15 minutes would always be the same. The villain would kidnap the heroine and drive off in a Mercedes, and he would be chased by the police in a jeep! The gap between the two would keep on increasing, just like the gap between the developed and the developing countries. But we would all go home happy." The reason, he explained amid laughter, was that the hero always managed to save the day. "He would ride a horse, climb trees, slide down a hill, but he always managed to arrive in front of the Mercedes."

This climactic ending, he summed up, epitomised the innovative approach India needed to apply in its health and pharmacology sectors. "I in India should stand, not for inhibition, imitation, but for innovation," he ended.

Subhadra Menon, currently working with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, is editor-in-chief of its newsletter Sankalp and has written for leading journals in the past. Her years as a health journalist partly led to her writing this book, besides her experiences as "an ordinary Indian, the anxiety and frustration." And though the book is titled "No Place to Go", she reveals that the last chapter, "Making it Work," is "very close to the heart," since it is about people who have tried to make a difference to the system, whether through private agencies or through the Government. "I think it's important for us to look at success stories too," she points out.

ANJANA RAJAN

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