Martin Sloot, General Director, MSF India branch office
Welcome dear guests, especially our special invitees, Mr Farooq Sheikh and Mr Anurag Kashyap and – of course, welcome to our colleagues from our projects and from Delhi.
Warm welcome as well to the director of Alliance Francaise in Delhi: Mr. Jean Philippe Bottin. We – as MSF India – express our gratitude to him for his support in hosting the launch at this beautiful venue. This is also special since – as you may know – MSF started in 1971, in France.
Today is a special day. Doctors without Borders also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF is launching its first public campaign in India called ‘Who cares?’ This is perhaps a provocative title but with this interaction, I hope you will come to appreciate the meaning behind the choice of this title.
Humanitarian assistance is about providing care to people in need… to provide life-saving medical assistance to people who require it the most. This could be situations of natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, areas of conflict or even war. People caught up in such situations are often forgotten and in desperate need of medical care.
It is heartening to see the outpouring of support and care to the natural (some say man-made!) catastrophe that is unravelling in Uttarakhand. The government, media, NGOs, people from all walks of life are helping the victims in some way or the other.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case everywhere. Within India and in many parts of the world, there are large numbers of people in desperate need of medical care. And it is in these areas that MSF tries to be present… to provide humanitarian assistance to people who otherwise may have little or no access to it. And also to ‘speak out’ when needed; to be a ‘voice’ for the people so they are not forgotten.
For over 40 years now MSF has been providing medical care to people in over 65 countries around the world. As a Nobel Peace prize-winning organisation that has also received the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in India, MSF believes in providing medical aid to people in need, irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, gender, political affiliation, colour or race. We pride ourselves in being independent, neutral and impartial whatever the context may be.
In India, MSF works in contexts that are very different from each other. For example, in Kashmir, MSF runs a mental health programme for a population traumatised by years of violence. On the other hand, we provide highly specialised HIV and TB care in Mumbai and Manipur. In Bihar, MSF treats Kala Azar and malnutrition. In Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, MSF provides primary and secondary healthcare and in Nagaland MSF is supporting the district hospital in Mon. Over the years, MSF has carried out several emergency interventions in response to natural disasters and epidemics.
India is well known for the talent pool of doctors. No surprise then that MSF also recruits medical specialists from India and the region to work in very diverse, complex settings around the world.
Of course, MSF is not the only organisation that cares. There are many other national and international NGOs that care about people in need. But with this campaign we hope to reach out to people, not just to talk about what MSF does but to get people involved in caring about those less fortunate, who have limited or no access to medical care.
We know there are huge disparities between the rich and the poor in India. This is truly an amazing country but with huge paradoxes… over 700 million have a mobile phone, yet an equal number has no access to toilets! India has earned a name – and rightly so – for being a destination for quality medical care, for providing cutting edge medical technology. But it is also true that out of pocket spending on medical expenditure in India is close to 75 per cent! (WHO/World Bank). The poor can just not afford quality medical care.
While the inequalities are huge, there is a lot that we all can do to help the not so fortunate. We saw in the recent past that many people in India do care about issues like corruption and safety of women. With this campaign, MSF hopes to appeal to the humanitarian in us to come forward to support the efforts of MSF in providing medical care to people most in need and with sharing our experiences about their situation.
It has been MSF’s experience that when people come together, when they speak out, change can happen. Only some years ago, patented drugs for HIV/AIDS cost more than $10,000 per year. Several organisations, including the MSF Access Campaign, lobbied hard to bring the prices down. Generic manufacturers in India now make anti-retrovirals at less that $100 per patient per year. India is known as the pharmacy of the developing world as it makes affordable generic, life-saving drugs and thus helps millions of patients in the developing world. Public pressure in India is huge in making sure that India does not lose this status. The recent Novartis case comes to mind. When people come together and demand change, change will happen.
MSF works in India. But India is also important to MSF. As a worldwide movement, MSF recognises the influence of India; not only as the pharmacy of the developing world, but also because of its highly respected medical institutions and staff, its vibrant civil society and its growing economical and political weight in the world.
Through this exhibition, which travels through Delhi and other cities in India- we hope to share the story of MSF, of our patients and our work around the world… be it the very challenging situation of providing medical care to people caught in the conflict in Syria or providing mental health care to people in Kashmir. We want to share with you our experience ‘from the field’ and in turn, hope to increase awareness about these issues.
Like our guests do in their films.
Why? Because we are all human beings and we should care.