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Dr. Vineeta Gupta is a physician and human rights activist based in Punjab, India. She has focused her efforts on World Bank efforts to privatize healthcare in Punjab. According to Dr. Gupta, the result of World Bank policies has not been greater access to healthcare. Instead she says the opposite is true: those who cannot pay are simply denied basic health services. Corporate Watch caught up with Dr. Gupta in Washington DC where she is participating in protests against World Bank and IMF policies.
VG: The World Bank is funding many health corporations in the state of Punjab...User fees have gone up, treatment costs have gone up. They have gone out of the reach of poor people who now are not able to have access to basic healthcare. In the constitution it's written that India would strive to give its citizens better healthcare, better nutrition.
CW: Are these corporations replacing public healthcare provided by the government?
VG: They have created a confusing situation. They have the state run services along with the private ones. State run services are at primary level. Everything else has been given to the corporations. Even the healthcare users don't know where the state services end and the private ones begin.
CW: What impact has that had on primary healthcare for poor people?
VG: They don't have access to healthcare. They were not able to afford it previously, but with the treatment costs going up they definitely don't have access to healthcare now. ... It's a big joke and a very sad story at the same time. Every project the World Bank undertakes, it says it does to alleviate poverty. It begins with instituting a user fee and ends with (supposedly) alleviating poverty. I cannot understand it. How can they say they are alleviating poverty and then put everything out of the reach of poor people, whether it is drinking water or other essential services?
They are out to get blood money and in the process they create poverty, and a wider gap between rich and poor.
They are out to get blood money and in the process they create poverty, a wider gap between rich and poor, they subjugate us socially and economically by putting lots and lots of debt on us.
CW: Are citizens in Punjab organizing to oppose these private healthcare corporations?
VG: It's a very new movement. We are trying to make people aware of what the World Bank is doing and we hope to gather momentum at the grassroots level. The affected should also rise up. It's good that we are getting help from US citizens and other people around the world, but it needs to be picked up in our country also.
CW: Give us a specific example of how people's health is being affected.
VG: It's my personal experience that there is no sterilization (of medical equipment) being done. People talk about the spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases (from unsterile equipment.) The World Bank spends millions on healthcare but they are increasing the spread of all communicable diseases.
Secondly, people who cannot afford private care go to these corporation hospitals and they are turned away. They have no choice; they die on the road. I have seen a patient delivering in a rickshaw myself. She was turned away from the private hospital, because of her torn clothes. Previously she would have had the option of going to a state hospital--good or bad that's another matter. But now without money in their pockets, the poor cannot go. The World Bank has a special category for the poor, where the poor can produce an identity card proving they are poor and get health services. But how many poor people have access to that?
I have seen a patient delivering in a rickshaw myself. She was turned away from the private hospital.
CW: Are these Indian or foreign corporations that are receiving World Bank funds?
They are parastatal. The World Bank says the state health services are not as good as they should be. So to better it they are creating health corporations, but the same people who head the health services head the health corporation. How does that make a difference?
CW: Tell me about your organization.
VG: I have been very involved with the PUCL, the People's Union for Civil Liberties for the last 14 years as a human rights volunteer. I am now also involved with INSAAF International, which believes in women's initiative in dealing with human rights, not just related to female issues, but human rights in general. We believe that women can provide leadership on all human rights issues.
CW: As a physician do believe that healthcare is a right?
VG: Of course! Providing basic healthcare is a fundamental right to a citizen of a country. Without basic healthcare, housing and food no nation can progress.
CW: How can people in Punjab fight these policies when the only money coming in for healthcare is being channeled to the private sector?
VG: The World Bank takes more from us than it gives. We need to make people aware that it's their money being taken by the World Bank. Every year from '93-'98 we paid more in interest and loan repayments than we received.
CW: What impact can protests like this one in Washington DC have on Bank policies?
VG: As this movement grows we can force our domestic governments to be self-sufficient. Through coordination of an international movement we can force the World Bank and IMF to close down. I am very, very hopeful.
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