Ketan Desai, an Indian doctor, facing corruption charges has been appointed as president of the World Medical Association.

Ketan Desai


  • 1
    Ketan Desai will serve as the president of WMA for 2016/17.
  • 2
    Desai faces charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy.
  • 3
    WMA sets ethical standards for physicians worldwide.

The World Medical Association (WMA), a top medical-ethics body, today appointed an Indian doctor facing corruption charges as its president, despite controversy surrounding his appointment while legal cases are pending.

A statement released by the WMA said Dr Ketan Desai delivered his inaugural speech as president on Friday at the association’s annual assembly in Taiwan. He will serve in the position for 2016/17.

Desai has faced conspiracy and corruption allegations since he was first selected in 2009 as a future president of the WMA. Desai has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the pending cases. He did not respond to questions from Reuters sent via email.

When Reuters asked the WMA this week for an update on Desai’s legal situation, spokesman Nigel Duncan said the association had nothing more to say. “I don’t think there’s anything we want to add to what we have already said,” Duncan said. He did not answer questions about Desai’s legal cases or what the ethics body had been told about them in recent months.



In one case filed in New Delhi in 2010, Desai faces charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy for allegedly being involved in a conspiracy to obtain a bribe of 20 million rupees ($450,000 at the time) from a medical college. In return, investigators allege Desai helped the school get permission from the Medical Council to add more students. When contacted last year, the college, which is not a defendant in the case, declined to comment.

Desai was jailed that year and his inauguration as the WMA president was suspended. He was later released on bail. In 2013, the WMA decided to lift the suspension after receiving assurances from the Indian Medical Association, which Desai once headed.

The Indian Medical Association did not respond to queries from Reuters this week.

A Reuters investigation published in July last year showed that the Indian Medical Association had incorrectly told the WMA that charges against Desai had been withdrawn. Representatives of major doctors organisations accepted the information as fact. The Indian Medical Association said last year that it never misled the WMA.


The WMA had said it took questions raised in the Reuters article “very seriously” and would look into them. Later, in October 2015, the WMA upheld its decision to appoint Desai as president, without giving reasons.


A source at India’s Central Bureau of Investigation said this week that the New Delhi case was still active, though it was on hold due to a pending appeal in the Supreme Court. The source said Desai still needs to appear before the district court judge during hearings.

A court document dated August 3 shows Desai, a urologist by training, submitted an application to seek an exemption from a personal appearance in court that day due to an illness. The next hearing is scheduled for November 4.

Proceedings in a separate case, alleging Desai was involved in a conspiracy to have the Medical Council of India allow a private medical school to add more students, were put on hold last year by a district court in northern Uttar Pradesh state until investigators obtain government permission to prosecute. Desai’s counsel in the case, Purnendu Chakravarti, said this week there was no change in the status of the case.


Based in France, the WMA sets ethical standards for physicians worldwide and represents millions of doctors. Known for its pioneering work in ethics, its members include the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association.


Kunal Saha, an Indian American doctor, had written to the WMA earlier this week saying that members of the IMA had misled the world body in favour of Desai by claiming that the corruption charges against Desai had been dropped.

“The IMA made a completely false submission before the WMA that Dr Desai has been cleared from all charges by the Indian authority,” Saha had said in his letter to the WMA.

Saha said the chief vigilance officer of the MCI had recommended disciplinary action against the IMA members who had made the false submissions to the WMA. The chief vigilance officer had recommended that the WMA be informed that at least two criminal cases against Desai are still pending before the CBI court.

Saha today said he was “extremely disappointed” by the WMA decision to install Desai as president. “The WMA is going to bring disrepute to itself by doing this,” Saha said. “As president of the WMA, Desai is trying to portray that he is respected by the global community,” Saha told this newspaper over phone.

In his letter to the WMA, Saha had also cited an October 2010 order from the MCI that had suspended Desai’s licence to practice medicine to question his installation as president of WMA.

“A doctor whose licence is suspended has been made the head of an international medical body — what message does that send to the public?” Saha asked.

Saha has written to the current MCI president Jayshree Mehta, saying it should take “urgent remedial measures” to remove Desai from the post of the WMA president through “appropriate authority”.

“The present installation of Desai to the highly coveted post of the WMA president not only goes against the categorical directions by the MCI and the chief vigilance officer, it also undermines the very sanctity of the noble medical profession that would likely have strong demoralising effects on public trust on doctors in India and across the globe,” Saha wrote in his letter, saying if the MCI did not act, he would move an “appropriate legal forum”.