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Gastroenterologist son of Communist leader is Mamata’s go-to man to fight Covid in Bengal

Abhijeet Choudhury heads Bengal's experts committee of doctors formed to combat Covid-19 and is convenor of the govt’s global advisory board led by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.

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Kolkata: He prefers to call himself a “doctor activist” and a “government servant”, but Abhijeet Choudhury has emerged as the go-to man for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in this pandemic season.

Choudhury, a Kolkata-based gastroenterologist and a distinguished visiting fellow, public health, Harvard University, is the convener of Mamata’s global advisory board led by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee and heads an expert committee of doctors on treatment and testing protocol for Covid-19 infections.

The 60-year-old spends almost all of his time visiting hospitals across districts, counselling doctors, and working on the treatment and containment guidelines.

A controversial choice

Choudhury’s appointment as the chief of the expert committee on treatment protocol and as the convenor of the Global Advisory Board has not been without controversy.

The appointment has been criticised, primarily because the doctor is a gastroenterologist and not an epidemiologist.

Choudhury, however, brushes aside the flak he receives.

“In order to lead the fight against the virus, one does not need to be a specialist. You just need to be a doctor,” Choudhury told ThePrint. “The ICMR chief who is leading it nationally is a cardiologist. In fact, A.R. Rahman, who has composed some of the greatest international music, does not have a Master’s degree in music.”

The gastroenterologist says he prefers to concentrate on his work.

Choudhury has been provided with a helicopter by the state government to fly to various locations, from Jalpaiguri to Malda and from Siliguri to Murshidabad, to oversee the state’s Covid-19 infrastructure and to counsel the doctors who now appear to be in trouble.

In West Bengal, at least a dozen doctors, including senior officials of the state’s health department and superintendents of government hospitals, have been infected and are under treatment.

“If doctors get scared, then who will be there to serve and treat the people? I know doctors too have their trauma, their problems and they need counselling,” Choudhury said. “This is not a work that can be imposed on anybody. Doctors have to come willingly and voluntarily. The government has addressed issues related to protective gear and medicines. Now all of us need to protect ourselves and treat our patients.”

The doctor also advocates against doomsday theories, saying only 10 per cent of Covid-19 patients get significantly ill.

“I am trying to convince people to get over the pessimism. It seems that they are living in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land-kind of situation where the very existence of humans is being threatened. It is not so,” he said. “Only 10 per cent of infections are significant to us in terms of treatment. Around 20 per cent are asymptomatic and 50 per cent are mildly infected. Rest are also moderate in nature of the infection.”

“People are preoccupied with the thought that it is a fight between life and death. It is not,” he added.


Also read: No end to Modi-Mamata row, MHA slams Bengal with 3rd letter in 8 days over Covid crisis


State’s Covid-19 infrastructure being redesigned

Choudhury also oversees the state’s Covid-19 infrastructure apart from discussing treatment protocols.

“No state was prepared for such a pandemic scientifically, systematically and mentally. So we are re-purposing and re-designing the entire infrastructure,” he said. “The state has already set up 62-odd Covid hospitals across districts. We have also identified at least one hospital in each district for SARI and ILI cases.”

According to Choudhury, Bengal has recorded a high number of SARI (severe acute respiratory illness) and ILI (influenza like illness ) cases. In Bengal, the number of SARI cases has crossed 1,000 but early detection is key to cure in all these cases, he added.

Choudhury, however, did not comment on allegations that the state is fudging data, suppressing information on sample testing. “I am not part of these committees and these are policy matters of the state. It will not be right on my part to comment on them,” he said.

According to latest figures shared by the government, Bengal had 274 active cases as of Tuesday evening, with 15 deaths being recorded so far.


Also read: Mamata gives Rs 10 lakh insurance cover to journalists, asks them to report positive news


Son of a Communist leader

For all his closeness to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Choudhury is the son of late CPI(M) leader Arun Choudhury, who was the general secretary of Left-backed All Bengal Teachers Association (ABTA).

ABTA was one of the most influential organisations during the Left regime and the senior leader was known to be part of the close circles of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“I am proud to be his son and whatever values I have, I got from him. He was a Communist leader but I too believe in a certain political ideology,” Choudhury said. “But I had always been a government servant and a doctor who served the Ashok Stambha (government) not any political party. In Bengal, most intellectuals always try to level a political identity on everybody and pass a verdict, which is an oversimplification of issues.”

Choudhury has also been working with Prof Abhijit Banerjee since 2013 on several public health projects. “The committee meets every Thursday and we submit our suggestions / recommendations to the state’s chief secretary,” he said.

(This report has been updated to reflect the correct name of Abhijeet Choudhury’s father, Arun Choudhury.)


Also read: Mamata transfers IAS, IPS officers over ration supply and mosque gathering row


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. “People are preoccupied with the thought that it is a fight between life and death. It is not,” he added.

    Wish we had the same mental strength as the doctor.

  2. Choudhury is the son of late CPI(M) leader Barun Choudhury, who was the general secretary of Left-backed All Bengal Teachers Association (ABTA). A Kolkata-based gastroenterologist and a distinguished visiting fellow, public health, Harvard University, is the convener of Mamata’s global advisory board led by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee and heads an expert committee of doctors on treatment and testing protocol for Covid-19 infections. “In order to lead the fight against the virus, one does not need to be a specialist. You just need to be a doctor, or could as well be a quiz-master.” Choudhury told ThePrint. “The ICMR chief who is leading it nationally is a cardiologist. In fact, A.R. Rahman, who has composed some of the greatest international music, does not have a Master’s degree in music.”
    NEVER HEARD OF MEDICINE OR ENGINEERING COMING TO AN INDIVIDUAL LIKE MUSIC OR DANCE AND OF COURSE POLITICS WITHOUT FORMAL EDUCATION.

  3. “In order to lead the fight against the virus, one does not need to be a specialist” – what a joke! A sham of a health committee has been set up, being headed by an Economist and a non-epidemiologist as its expert, and why not. This is how the state of West Bengal is being run since the last 9 years. Bow down to the queen, lick her chappals, compromise your integrity and honesty and you are a HERO in the eyes of the TMC political class. TMC in Bengal is hell bent on proving that yes we can fool all the people all the time. Instead of fighting the virus and protecting people, the WB Govt is moving towards committing a genocide in the State – for them winning in politics is top priority after all elections are round the corner. Little do they realize that in the end this is going to boomerang on them – there are already strong signs of it with the ICMR/MHA breathing on their neck and most importantly the State Doctors Association advocating for transparency and refusing to take any more political diktats from the TMC goons masquerading as TMC Ministers spewing anti-Centre venom on TV channels and Print media – a clear sign of their days being numbered.

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