G20 HEALTH MEET PRESS CONFERENCE…PIB’S Gautam Kumar with Union Additional Secretary for Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Lav Agarwal (R)…the highly confidental meetings were to discuss emerging global health and how to handle zoonotic origin diseases with the help of Artificial Intelligence, Digital Technology and other faster modes of communication like telemedicine.

THIS week most of us have been totally bemused by the G20 joyrides in capital town of Goa, Panaji! The undoubtedly honourable G20 Health Summit was in town but perhaps whoever the boss is, should have been a little more sensitive to the fact that India is still a developing country. We should not pretend to be a First World country and spend public money (real or unreal) so copiously on self-promotion and self-glorification!
I am sorry I could attend only one of the 2nd G20 Health Working Group Meeting press conferences. Security was tight and confidentiality high according to Sanjit Rodrigues (secretary, Protocol & Nodal Officer) who was taking care of the nitty gritty. It seems the smaller media people were not invited to the luxury five-star resort venues where the summit meetings took place, along with side events showcasing Goa’s arts and crafts). I couldn’t resist asking Union Additional Secretary for Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Lav Agrawal about the G20 budget.

Are the G20 Summit meetings across the country being financed from the AYUSH budget or the Department of Health & Family Welfare budget — estimated to be Rs86,175 crore, approximately 2% of Central government expenditure for 2023-24? Also, what has health got to do with culture, must we showcase culture at health summits?
Very naïve to ask of course! He had no answers except that it’s not so bad. India is planning to increase public health spending to 2.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025. As for expenditure spent treating our guests from abroad to cultural shows it is in the spirit of “atithi devo bhava” (“guest is god” and “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (“the world is one family”)…never mind that India is 155th on the Health Index of the world! There must be reasons why have to impress the G20 VVIP/VIP visitors from some very important countries! It explains the scores of G20 Summit posters put up everywhere down the main roads, depicting world mover and shaker Prime Minister Narendra Modi Narendra with Chief Minister of Goa Dr Pramod Sawant – cheerfully promising us more harmony, health and hope! Hope! G20’s motto is also “One Earth, One Family, One Future.”
We live in hope mostly these days in the media. So for three days down town Panaji, Ponjekars saw these long luxurious air-conditioned buses — sometimes with barely 12 G20 delegetes in them — passing by on some scheduled visit. Specially assigned police brought traffic to a stop (traffic lights don’t work) to give the pretty buses right of way! The buses are rarely available to aam aadmi, they are just showpieces and not practical at all for Goan streets and even roads. Maybe they’re fit for Nitin Gadkari’s highways though!
IN one instance some delegates were visiting one of the Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana generic pharmacies which have been opening up the country over. This Janaushadhi pharmacy was located down a lane off 18 June road and I noticed the lane looked much cleaner than it looked every day, there were fresh white strips running on both sides. The Janaushadhi pharmacy had spread out a small red carpet on the pavement space here and a shamiana above, a couple of chairs…sherbet greeted the G20 visitors who asked a few questions and left quickly. It was a sweltering mid-morning visit. The foreign delegates left the sherbet in the plastic cups un-drunk.
Interestingly, this is yet another one of PM Modi’s innumerable pet schemes. This one is reportedly so successful in numbers that now there are 9,177 Jan Aushadhi Kendra the country over! In a sense in direct competition with the mainstream Allopathy pharmacies. At the Jan Aushadhi government-aided pharmacies one may find quality generic medicines at prices discounted from 50% to 90%. Wow! Hope these government-funded generic pharmacies don’t put regular pharmacies out of business.
There are also private generic pharmacies coming up although here the prices are not so economical as in the Jan Aushadhi Kendra or pharmacies, a matter of just a few rupees and medicines look exactly like branded medicines do, in their blindingly shiny pouches the fine print gives one a headache reading it and one requires a magnifying glass. Carry a magnifying glass around with you if you’re going shopping for medicines.
Actually, the scheme was launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers (Government of India) as far back as November 2008 with the objective of having at least one Jan Aushadhi store or Kendra in each district of the country. Drug license and infrastructure facilities are given to applicants who sign on the dotted line….must find out more about these generic pharmacies one of these days! Goa has three of them, I understand, one in Panaji, one in Mapusa and one probably down south Goa.
Still, this is to note that all the G20 hosannas of welcome is because G20 is an influential body of wealthy and not-so-wealthy countries. Each side expecting something from the other surely in exchange for what? That is the million dollar question when as Lav Agrawal said 70% of future diseases are expected to be of zoonotic origin! The wealthy countries need new markets and politicians across the world are businessmen and businesswomen first and last…I don’t think we are going to become a First World country in a hurry, my dears. The key countries to watch are the densely populated countries of India, Brazil, Indonesia.

G20 DELEGATES ITINERARY…included visiting one of the Jan Aushadhi generic medicine pharmacies like this one. Questions were asked, answers were given and recorded. The government-aided Jan Aushadhi kendra offer generic medicines at 50% to 90% discounted rates. Dream come true for healthcare in this country? Nobody is quite sure what the catch is!

But why are rich countries interested in the poor struggling working classes of the developing world, controlled and ruled as they are by their oligarchy dynasties in the name of governance? Is this just another ploy to monetise the poor anew for the rich, richer, richest? We’ve seen the engineered covid-19 pandemic with thousands of victims dying before and after the vaccine programs. Russia is flexing its muscles, so is China and USA wants to continue to be the richest country of them all with its armaments on sale to the rest of a politically turbulent world today …playing political games to stay on top of the heap of power, profit and control can’t be easy.
To be honest I don’t know what to think! Whether to be happy or to fear what kind of mandated healthcare regulations we are going to become victims of next…the prime minister of India may want to heal the world with Ayurveda and Yoga and project India as a one-time glorious ancient land of scholars, scientists, philosophers…that is, before the Muslim and European invaders came along and put an end to the glories of ancient Bharatdesh! You get the gist of it.
Today’s changing face of society is rapidly leading us into a global melting pot in which one may only wait with baited breath to see what it churns up…on our shores. Keeping my fingers crossed!
ON that note it’s avjo, selamat datang, poiteverem, au revoir, arrivedecci, hasta la vista and vachun yeta here for now. Be sure to visit the Konkan Fruit Fest 2023 organized by the Botanical Society of Goa at the Francisco Luis Gomes Garden (Campal Garden) down the Campal promenade this weekend (April 21, 22 &23). This is your last chance to stock up on a whole host of kitchen ingredients and home temptations for the difficult monsoon months in store for us all in capital city Panaji given the condition of the roads.
Also I’m sure you will get some honest mangoes here! Such farm to table festivals are the salt of the earth, your best insurance for health and happiness! According to my friend Miguel Braganza the BSG festivals are increasingly becoming gen next affairs of agriculture, horticulture and other cultures presumably of the organic and eco-friendly kind! There will be kokum refreshers waiting for you, go.

—Mme Butterfly

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