Indian health officials slam Lancet editor's comments

Recent comments by the editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, have stirred the ire of Indian health officials, who called them "derogatory" and "not borne out by evidence," according to a report in the Times of India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The newspaper published an earlier article in which it interviewed Horton, who said the country's government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had failed to make the health sector a priority.

"Since Modi has come in, health has completely vanished," Horton told the Times of India. "India is on the edge. If PM Modi does not tackle health, India's economy combined with a rising population is not sustainable. For India, health is an issue of national security. The government cannot protect the sovereignty of its nation, cannot ensure sustainability unless it has a healthy population. At present, Modi has done nothing to tackle the challenge."

The comments and a paper planned for release in December by The Lancet drove Indian officials to say that "launching an alphabet soup" of programs and then not implementing them was a "disservice" to the country.

Rakesh Kumar, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Health, said in a letter to Horton that "India has moved from strength to strength and some recent initiatives will ensure improved outcomes for the most vulnerable," the Times reported.

Health officials said in the letter that the country has made great strides in reducing infant and maternal mortality through its immunization programs and said it was introducing three new vaccines as part of its Universal Immunization Program as well as increased efforts to control drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV, the Times reported.

Indian officials also said the government has spent more than $4 billion at 10 centers for medical science and at 58 district hospitals that will be converted to medical schools.

That spending, however, was not enough in the eyes of Horton, who said the paper to be published in December will "challenge" Modi on universal healthcare, which he said in the Times report was an "absolute priority" for India.

Indian officials also said the respected journal "must not become a tool in the hands of people with their own agenda for generating political controversies," the Times of India reported.

Earlier this year, India blocked the implementation of its universal healthcare plan after initial projections said it would cost more than $18 billion over 5 years, according to Reuters.

- here's the Times of India story on India's reaction
- a Times of India story on Horton's comments
- and a Reuters report on universal healthcare