Top education regulator in India is arrested on bribery allegationsBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c2355 (Published 29 April 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2355
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The World Medical Association (WMA) was founded in 1947 with doctors from only 27 countries with a noble aim to promote medical ethics and better healthcare across the globe. Today, with national medical associations from more than 90 countries in its "Council", the WMA has become an important international platform for bringing freedom to the physicians and promoting high quality healthcare around the world. As a medical organization with members representing different countries around the world, the WMA has also been involved with important issues on human rights. The top leader of the WMA who represents the international medical community must possess the highest level of moral and ethical character.
The WMA is scheduled to introduce Dr.Ketan Desai, a physician based in India, as its next president during their annual conference to be held in Vancouver later this week (October 13-16, 2010). Dr. Desai is a well-known figure in the Indian medical circle albeit not always for the right reasons. In fact, Dr. Desai was the president of the Medical Council of India (MCI) until 2001 when he was removed by the Indian Court after income tax investigators observed that he and his family had received two unexplained gifts of money totalling 6.5 million rupees.. This made national and international headlines almost a decade ago1. (The court also asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the government's premier investigating agency against corruption, to prosecute. In 2005 the Bureau concluded that there was no evidence that Dr Desai had extended any official favours to those who had paid him.)Following this saga Dr. Desai made an incredible return to the highest regulatory body for control of medical education and practice of medicine as he was re-elected "unopposed" as the MCI president in 20092. And shortly after regaining the top position in the MCI, Dr. Desai also managed to become the "president-elect" for the WMA during their last annual meeting in India3.
But then, earlier this year, Dr. Desai was charged by the CBI), with seeking a bribe of Rs. 2 crore (equivalent approximately to US $ 450,000) allegedly in exchange for granting MCI recognition to a private medical college in Punjab. Under the pressure from an enormous public outcry, Indian government soon dismissed all council members and dissolved Desai-controlled MCI. The health ministry established a new 6- member "Board of Governors" (through a special Presidential "Ordinance 2010") to run country's medical education system. This episode shocked the medical fraternity not only in India but also around the world4. Dr. Desai was taken to custody, waiting for the trial. Dr. Desai has been kept in jail almost continuously since his initial arrest by the CBI on 23rd April, 2010 until last week when his bail application on the plea to attend the WMA conference in Vancouver to take over the charge of the WMA president was allowed by the Indian court5.
Ethical norms for most professions (including practice of medicine) demand that a person who has been indicted for a criminal offence must be removed from his job until he/she is exonerated of all criminal charges by the court of law. Dr. Desai was arrested on April 23, 2010 and charged with several counts of criminal violations by the CBI. Interestingly, despite vociferous protests from various groups following Dr. Desai's arrest, the WMA has maintained his status as the "president-elect" unchanged for the past almost six months. Now the WMA has invited an incarcerated Dr. Desai to come to Vancouver and take over the role of the next president for WMA5. However, in an amazing twist in this unbelievable medical muddle in India; MCI canceled Dr. Desai's medical license on October 9, 2010 on the ground of his criminal indictment. In fact, the final "Order" passed only days before start of the WMA conference in Vancouver, the "Board of Governors" of the new MCI not only cancelled Dr. Desai's medical registration, they also barred him from "participating as a doctor in a medical conference anywhere and representing doctors in any medical council, conference and association etc."6. Although this obviously became a second wave of major news in this unhappy chronicle of Indian medicine, seemingly there is no change in the plan for induction of Dr. Desai as the next WMA president during the conference in Vancouver7. Does a physician who is suspended from practicing medicine and also banned from taking part in any medical conference/meeting have a right to become the president of an international medical body like WMA? The annual conference of the WMA in Vancouver undoubtedly will have to resolve this situation.
Although serious controversy with the role of the WMA president has surfaced in the past8, the present chaotic situation with a criminally indicted and disbarred medical man as the president-elect for this major international medical society is unprecedented indeed. Questions may be raised with the initial selection of Dr. Desai, as the "president-elect" during the WMA meeting in Delhi a year ago. Questions must be raised with the wisdom of the present WMA leaders to continue keeping Dr. Desai's status as the "president-elect" even after he was indicted for alleged corrupt criminal activities. But the most important question should be the future course of action that the WMA must adopt at this critical juncture. It seems that most reasonable minds would agree that a doctor who has been stripped of his medical license in his native country cannot have any right to be a member, let alone the president of an international medical group like WMA. Even more important is the fact that the medical council in India not only cancelled Dr. Desai's medical registration, it also made a categorical declaration that Dr. Desai cannot appear in any medical conference/meeting anywhere. Under the present circumstances, does the WMA have a moral or legal authority to welcome Dr. Desai as their next president during the conference in Vancouver?
While this fiasco involving Dr. Desai may appear as a problem only for the Indian medical fraternity, itclearly also affects the medical community around the globe because of the high negative publicity it has already received and because of Dr. Desai's potential role as the highest leader of the WMA. It is ironic that the WMA website prominently displays that the "central objective" of this international medical body is "to establish and promote the highest possible standards of ethical behavior and care by physicians" (www.wma.net). In order to achieve such laudable central objective, the WMA must select a president who is entirely beyond reproach. While he stands accused of serious criminal offences, Desai clearly does not fall in this category. The WMA must not be allowed to become a subject of ridicule in the eyes of the ordinary citizens because any blemish on an organization with the name "world medical association" would undoubtedly have repercussions on the entire medical community of the world.
1. R. Sharma. Head of Medical Council of India removed for
corruption. BMJ 2001; 323: 1385.
2. Medical Council of India, New Delhi, General Body 134th Session.
March 1, 2009.
Oct. 12, 2010).
3. Ahmedabad doctor heads World Medical Association. Times of
India. October 18, 2009.
World-Medical-Association/articleshow/5135476.cms (accessed Oct. 12,
4. G. Mudur. Top education regulator in India is arrested on
bribery allegations. BMJ 2010; 340: c2355.
5. Court allowed ex-MCI chief to attend Canada meet. Hindustan
Times. Oct. 6, 2010. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Court-allows-ex-MCI-
chief-to-attend-Canada-meet/Article1-608913.aspx (accessed Oct. 12, 2010).
6. Order dated October 9, 2010 from the Medical Council of India.
7. Medical don Ketan Desai no more a doctor. India Today. October
12, 2010. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/115986/India/medical-
don-ketan-desai-no-more-a-doctor.html (accessed Oct. 12, 2010).
8. A. Eidelman. Responsibilities of the president of the World
Medical Association. Lancet 2009; 374: 115.
Competing interests: As the founding-president of "People for Better Treatment" (PBT), a registered humanitarian organization in India, we filed a formal complaint against Dr. Ketan Desai before the Medical Council of India (MCI) based on which his license was suspended by the MCI on October 9, 2010.
Surely anybody reading this will ask:
1. How could Dr Desai possibly continue for so long as
president of the Indian Medical Council?
2. How could the World Medical Association elect him as
A potential answer to the first question can be found in
Edward Luce's brilliant book on India, "In Spite of the Gods."
Luce loves India as I do, but he makes clear not only that
corruption is everywhere in India but also that corrupt
officials have no fear of being sacked.
The answer to the second question might be that the World
Medical Association has long been an ethically suspect
organisation where the wily and politically savvy can flourish
regardless of their moral standing.
Both India and the World's doctors deserve better.
Competing interests: No competing interests