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From the PM's doctor to a hero
Archana Jahagirdar in New Delhi
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February 07, 2009 16:32 IST

Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India and head of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] health panel, is unlikely to be seen on Page 3, a natural home to some doctors.

Reddy, who before taking on his current assignment was the head of the cardiology department, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (and is currently on deputation from AIIMS to PHFI), had chosen to keep a low profile till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fell ill. As the head of the PM's health panel, Reddy was thrust into the limelight.

Says Reddy, "The PM's physician should always be available but never visible." The Prime Minister's Office, though, decided to change that when it was decided that Reddy would be the single point of contact for all media briefings during the PM's stay in hospital.

Commenting on the PMO's decision, Reddy says, "The prime minister wanted complete openness and transparency during the whole process so that there would be no room for speculation."

This sharing of information, however, didn't serve Reddy as well since many of his decisions -- surgery over angioplasty, choice of surgeon -- were criticised.

"As the head of the PM's health panel, I had to take the patient's overall interest into account when deciding on the course of the treatment. The quantity of life is more assured with surgery," he says.

Reddy says that given the criticism he faced for asking the prime minister to go in for surgery, it would have been much easier if he had opted for an angioplasty: "If things would have gone wrong with an angioplasty, then the blame would have been shared. But since I was expecting a good outcome from the surgery, I wasn't tense or afraid at all."

Manmohan Singh too was in favour of the surgery. Recalls Reddy, "After the decision was taken and I informed the PM's family and the PM about the various options and the best course of treatment, the prime minister took just five minutes and said, 'On the balance of probabilities, let's go for surgery'."

Reddy also defends his decision to use Ramakant Panda as the surgeon. He says, "I have seen Panda operate and he is the best in doing beating heart surgeries and has one of the lowest rates of failure in this kind of surgery. It was a no contest."

Now, of course, Reddy is a hero for having taken all the right medical decisions and delivering the nation's prime minister safely back home in the pink of health.

"The prime minister's recovery is one of the fastest recoveries that I have seen in my career. He has tremendous willpower. He kept saying that he had to get back to work as soon as possible," he says.

Reddy, who was a personal physician to P V Narasimha Rao when he was the prime mMinister, became the head of the current PM's medical panel when the PMO requested him to be so.

Reddy, who at that time was already the head of the cardiology department at AIIMS, decided to form a team of doctors for two reasons: one -- and the more obvious one -- was that his hands were already full as HoD.

Two, a more pertinent reason, was that he felt that the prime minister's health should not be held to ransom by one person.

"The norm has been to have only one doctor as the prime minister's physician. But what if that physician is not well himself, or is traveling, or even has a family emergency," he points out.

Reddy then hand-picked two bright doctors from AIIMS -- Nitish Naik and Ambuj Roy --who are the PM's personal physicians, and Reddy decided to head this panel.

Reddy studied at Osmania University in Hyderabad and then at AIIMS. He feels that his stint in the limelight will not change his life in any significant way. He says, "I am no longer working only as a cardiologist. I want to focus on public health. And public health is multi-disciplinary."

Public Health Foundation of India, which has public-private partnership (and includes the likes of ex-McKinsey India head, Rajat Gupta) is something that Reddy feels will be important in the prevention of several chronic diseases and thereby help in bringing down the substantial health bill of this country. He says, "Prevention of diseases is important and we are looking at strengthening systems. The private sector has realised that investment in health is important."

With several awards conferred by international peers -- like the London [Images] School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conferring an honourary fellowship, or the World Health Organisation's director-general's award in 2003, or even delivering the 145th Cutter lecture on preventive medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health and a resume that runs into 30-plus pages, Reddy has been feted internationally. But at home, says Reddy, 'the profile has been low-key'.

Reddy's hoping that once all the fuss about the prime minister's health dies down, he will be able to go back to doing what he does best: giving his all to the world of medicine and working for the good health of each and every Indian.

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