The WMA needs to answer.

Ketan Desais election to WMA Can ethics body have moral authority if it cant keep a clean housePTI
news Analysis Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 17:03

The only real authority that the World Medical Association (WMA) has is moral power. It is supposed to be a beacon of ethics in medical practice led by women and men of unimpeachable integrity. 

So when tainted Indian doctor Ketan Desai was elected to head this august body last week, questions were raised not only in Indian media and medical circles, but even at the doorstep of the WMA, headquartered in the French town of Ferney-Voltaire near Geneva.

Corruption no bar: Tainted Indian doctor Ketan Desai becomes head of World Medical Association   

The Secretary General of the WMA made light of corruption charges and court action against Dr Desai. “To our knowledge there are no charges against him – they have all been dropped,” Dr Otmar Kloiber told The News Minute (TNM) in a phone interview. Asked on what basis such an assessment was made he said, “There is no proof. Send me proof - and I don’t want to see newspaper clippings of which I already have many.”  Nigel Duncan, spokesperson for the WMA backed that.  “To the best of our knowledge all criminal charges have been dismissed against Dr Desai,” he told TNM via an email.

The WMA, at the very best, is ill informed. There is one criminal case against Dr Desai in the Supreme Court of India and the petitioner is none other than India’s top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). In other words, Dr Desai stands accused by the government of India on charges of corruption. Here is a road map. Type in followed by Court Websites – District Courts – Delhi – Patiala House – Case Status – Party Search – Petitioner or respondent’s full name where you type in Ketan Desai and select the year 2012.  You land on a page that says 

CORRUPTION CASES  11/12 Of 2012  

CBI Vs. 



If you click for further information you land on a page that says the following.

Case Status :


Status Of :

CORRUPTION CASES  11/12  Of  2012

Litigants :


Judge :

Sh. Gurdeep Singh

Last Listed On :

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Next Date of Hearing :

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Case Updated On :

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Sources have told TNM a hearing is scheduled soon in the Gyan Sagar Medical College case in which Dr Desai is accused of having taken a bribe of Rs 2 crore.

The question that begs an answer is this – if the status of the case can be located so quickly by anyone- why can’t the WMA have done the same? Is the world body unconcerned about its reputation?

In its own words, the WMA describes itself thus. The WMA “…serves as a clearinghouse of ethics information resources (sic) for its members and cooperates with academic institutions and global organisations concerned (with) ethical matters as well as individual experts in the field of medical ethics.” Founded in 1947 the association now has 111 National Medical Associations as members, and as part of the World Health Professions Associates (WHPA) it also includes nurses and pharmacists, among others. The WMA is an NGO in official relations with its neighbour the World Health Organisation (WHO). This gives it access to all WHO meetings to make interventions and influence global health policy.  Translated this means that a man who has spent some time in jail in India and could be called a criminal by the highest court in the world’s largest democracy will speak about ethics and standards that must be respected by the global medical community. This is like US GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump writing a guidebook on how to treat women. 

It is not as if the WMA was not alerted. If the media could not be relied upon - and this is puzzling - why did the body not check directly with the government of India given the seriousness of the allegations and the weight of the responsibility related to the job of its president? 

People have been alerting the WMA for some months now including, most recently, Dr Kunal Saha. He has written detailed letters to the WMA and other authorities – copies of which are available with TNM – drawing their attention to the court proceedings in India, the corrupt practices of Dr Desai and CBI and CVO reports on him. Dr Saha is President of People for Better Treatment (PBT), an advocacy group based in India and the US, and he is calling for intervention including legal intervention. “I am now consulting attorneys to see what action can be taken against all parties including the WMA which was aware of the pending case in the Supreme Court in India - I have personally sent all the details to the WMA,” Dr Saha said. Dr Saha who lost his wife in Kolkata to medical negligence has been following the Dr Desai-WMA issue very closely. Following Dr Desai’s election, the PBT has put out this statement

Dr Desai’s reputation as a wheeler-dealer in the medical profession precedes him. During his long tenure at the Medical Council of India (MCI), the body was so mired in controversy including serious charges of corruption and graft that the then President of India Pratibha Patil – herself no paragon of propriety – dissolved the association and Dr Desai was arrested in 2010. That arrest was not his first brush with the law. In November 2001, the Delhi High Court had called the MCI a ‘den of corruption’ ordering his removal from the post of President MCI and instructed the CBI to launch a criminal investigation.

Cases were filed against Dr Desai all over India for corruption as well as possession of disproportionate assets. A simple Google search reveals a remarkably notorious past for a person in one of the world’s most noble professions. There are any number of news clippings and stories that he was the ‘go to’ person for any ‘fixing’ that was required, ranging from recognition of medical colleges to getting admission to one of them and has faced charges of receiving a massive bribe to shift examination dates. 

Dr Desai’s first bid to head the WMA dates back to 2007. He lost and two years later ran again and won, this time when the WMA was meeting in New Delhi. Unfortunately for him, between his election and taking charge of the world body, he found himself in jail. 

At about the same time a TOI-Times Now investigation revealed that admission to the Chennai-based Sri Ramachandra University (SRU), which demanded Rs 40 lakh from students in a capitation-fee racket, was not possible without Dr Ketan’s blessings. That investigation also showed that means prevailed over merit as an estimated 2,500 nationwide ‘management quota’ seats were available in MBBS colleges. Having Dr Desai or his nominee on the board of management was key to succeed. This ‘activity’ carried on despite an explicit Supreme Court ban on capitation fee. Read here.  

A urologist from Gujarat, Dr Desai will serve as WMA President for the period 2016-2017. The WMA and Dr Desai may decide to rough it out, but a long shadow will certainly accompany them for the next 12 months and thereafter. The damage to WMA will be greater than it will be for Dr Desai. “It’s terrible in general that this hangs like a great pall over everything…we need clarity. It’s just not good for anybody,” Sir Michael Marmot, the WMA President just before Desai, has been quoted as saying. Dr Marmot chaired the WHO’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health and is a highly respected health professional.

What will be the WMA’s authority or for that matter even its credibility to tell the world about ethical standards and responsibility when its own President is facing criminal charges in India? 

Dr Desai has been quoted in the media saying he is innocent and all accusations and charges against him are false. So has Donald Trump. 


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