By Binayak & Ilina Sen
Story Dated: Saturday, February 22, 2014 14:6 hrs IST
Illustration: Bhaskaran

The Medico Friend Circle (MFC) recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary. A small group, it is not very well known except among those who share its passionate commitment to pro-people alternatives in health care.

The members and fellow travellers of the MFC have contributed their own, often meagre, resources (no sponsorships allowed) for the publication of a bulletin that contains their thoughts, ideas and analyses, and also for sustaining two (annual and mid-term) meetings a year held under spartan conditions.

For the trouble they take, the MFC members get a chance to participate in deliberations on issues of health care and policy of an extremely high standard, relevance and commitment.

The MFC began as a lateral offshoot of the JP movement, dedicated to working towards equitable and just alternatives in health and health care. From the beginning, the discourse was maintained on an ideologically non-sectarian platform. The seventies was a time of rich experimentation in models of community-based primary health care.

In 1978, the international community ratified its commitment to primary health care with the slogan “Health for All by Year 2000”. The young members of the MFC took this commitment to heart, and a whole series of social action initiatives was brought into existence. Borrowing from the barefoot doctors of (then revolutionary) China, the slogan of the time was ‘Go to the people, live among them, learn from them….’ Many of the doctors and health care professionals of the MFC went on to start or join health initiatives in rural areas. Many of these initiatives are still running.

In the eighties and the nineties, the MFC kept its analytical antennae alive, and critical discussion on the politics of health care, particularly in the context of market liberalisation, became one of its central concerns. This led to studies on drugs that have been banned and need to be banned, and injectable contraceptives.

Several issues of the bulletin were devoted to highlighting the need for universal access to proper health care, alternatives in medical education, paediatric and adult malnutrition, and chronic hunger among adults.

At the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the MFC played a critical role not only in providing medical relief in the affected areas but also in researching and documenting the effects of methyl isocyanate on the survivors. The documentation became a critical evidence against Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemicals.

The MFC’s role in Bhopal is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that the Indian Council of Medical Research left its 34 research studies on Bhopal incomplete, and finally, in 1994, quarantined its entire data set on the disaster, thereby placing it beyond public accountability.

The MFC is a unique institution and we are proud of our affiliation with it. It has played an important role in bringing the issues of justice, equity and accessibility into the discourse of health care in India.


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