“Name of the Disease” Filmmaker Dr. Abhijeet Banerjee Discusses Inadequate Healthcare in Udaipur

For those living in poverty, health care is vital to survive a life constantly threatened by malnutrition and fatal diseases. However, the health care accessible to these people is often low quality, unreliable, and unnecessarily expensive. This past Tuesday, the Social Entrepreneurs Club (SEC) sponsored a showing of a documentary to inform the public about the poor quality of the healthcare situation. SEC President Natasha Sinha ’08 brought Dr. Abhijeet Banerjee, an economist, Co-Founder of the Poverty Lab, and creator of the documentary, to campus. Dr. Banerjee worked with the Poverty Action lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create the documentary. The lab strives to identify reliable and realistic solutions for problems facing the impoverished Dr. Banerjee’s documentary, entitled “Name of the Disease,” is based in the rural area of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. The film draws from more than six years of health research in over 100 villages and footage spanning a year and a half. The documentary delivered a snapshot of what the creators perceive as dangerously inadequate healthcare and the ignorance of the sick. Dr. Banerjee said. “The problem is that we make up stories about the way things work. In order to do something useful, you need to know what is wrong.” Many of the people interviewed in the documentary didn’t know what sickness they had. Some, however, believed evil spirits possessed their bodies. Many had to travel far distances in order to see a doctor and get medicine. The afflicted could not go to the local healthcare center in Udaipur because it was often closed, a fact that the makers of the documentary forced reluctant officials to reveal with persistent questioning. An average of 45 percent of medical personnel are absent in sub-centers and aid posts, while 36 percent are absent in the larger Primary Health Centers and Community Health Centers on an unpredictable basis, according to the organization’s website. When questioned at a gathering, many of the sick people answered that when a doctor was available, they were charged about 70 rupees (~64 cents US) for treatment. However, one old man stood up and shouted that they were actually given 20 rupees worth of shots that did not cure anything. Medical personnel were forced to make a two to three hour trek to the main road, carrying the sick on their backs, in order to get treatment in the city. The cost of this treatment reached 3100 rupees (~$28.50 US), but the average person in Udaipur earns less than $2 US a day. The documentary indicated that most of the people of Udaipur had accepted that the situation was beyond their control. For most, acknowledging their problems seemed pointless. The documentary suggested that many people prefer to remain in denial rather than face the apparently unsolvable problems in their lives. When asked about the motivation behind his film, Dr. Banerjee said, “What jumps out about economics is that you don’t capture what people are saying. Documentaries give people real voices, and captures elements we might never have seen—fear, embarrassment, determination, all the things we do to deal with a complex reality.” With “Name of the Disease,” Dr. Banerjee hoped to bring the severity of the situation to people capable of making a difference. “If the problems are recognized seriously by dedicated people with will and determination, then there will be a solution. It takes patience and knowledge.” Banerjee continued, “To solve this problem, first we have to create a reliable system with health experts.” Sinha agreed with Dr. Banerjee’s belief that understanding on everyone’s part is necessary to incite change. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of faith in something corrupt [like the healthcare system in Udaipur],” she said. Sinha continued, “What’s important is to find a way to actively campaign and explain to people what’s going on, to accept that their system of medical care isn’t working. Only the people in these situations can turn something around and make something happen .” Sinha hopes students will consider ways to begin solving world issues..