SATHYA SAI BABA'S SUPER SPECIALTY HOSPITALS AS TWO-FACED PROJECTS
Serguei Badaev - September, 2002
Two Super Speciality hospitals built by SSB are considered by his followers as an expression of SSB's love and compassion to all people in the world. Free medical care from those hospitals is seen as a clear sign of Divine promise of a better future for all the needy and suffering people.
The first Super Speciality hospital in Puttaparthi was built by the firm Larsen & Tubro in 1991 and was constructed for 5 months. SSB's followers believe that it was SSB's divine intervention that got this hospital erected so fast and consider it as a miracle. Sai Baba himself emphasizes this moment: "Work on the hospital began in May after my return from Kodaikanal. Within five months from May to November, work has been done which would have taken five years". (23.11.1991. Sathya Sai Speaks, v.XXIV, p.310) It is still unclear what caused the construction to be finished so quickly. According to Sai Baba it must have been the enthusiasm of the workers: "The firm Larsen & Tubro are known for their big constructions in India and abroad. But nowhere else was such enthusiasm and zeal displayed by the workers engaged in the construction as in this Hospital. Even the smallest worker did the work of ten persons with zeal and joy. All workers performed their job with enthusiasm and devotion". (23.11.1991. Sathya Sai Speaks, v.XXIV, p.310).
It would be interesting to learn the secret of how it was possible to raise workers productivity ten times and to charge them with zeal and devotion, though they were not Sai Baba's devotees. But it seems that this phenomenon of quick construction can be partly explained by the fact that it is only cardiac department was opened in 1991 and real completion of the hospital took years:
1992 - Department of Uro-Nephrology;
1993 - Kidney transplant programme;
1994 - Department of Ophtalmology;
1995 - CT Scanner, Vitreo Retinal Service;
1999 - Lithotripsy Centre.
(Sanathana Sarathi, November 1999, v.42, 11, p.333)
It is worth noting that it seems that the actual development of the hospital was a little different from what was planned originally. No departments for lungs or neurology were opened in due turn, though they were mentioned by Sai Baba in 1991: "Our purpose is to provide for cardiac cases in the first phase. Then it will be the lungs. The third wing will be concerned with kidneys. The fourth will be neurology wing". (23.11.1991. Sathya Sai Speaks, vol. XXIV, p.310) It is not clear what could have interrupted Sai Baba's "sankalpa" (i.e. divine will) and prevented completion of those plans. This is even more provoking because Dr. A.N.Safaya, the director of the Super Speciality hospital, mentions that those plans still exist: "Plans for the future include the establishment of departments for neurology and neurosurgery, pulmonary medicine, oncology (cancer treatment), and ENT (ear, nose and throat surgery)". (World Health Forum, 1998, v.19, No 2, p.198)
The Super Speciality hospital in Puttaparthi has magnificent architecture, designed by the British architect, Professor Keith Critchlow. It does not look like an ordinary hospital but rather like a palace or a temple. Sai Baba's followers often call it a temple of healing and many believe that it is the best hospital in the world where everything is under divine (that is Sai Baba's) control. That means to SSB's followers that all patients recover much quicker than in ordinary hospitals, and that no side effects or bad results can occur after treatment or operations. This image is supported by SSB's top officials and official monthly Sanathana Sarathi which always use a lot of superlatives when refer to SSB's hospitals.
In 2000, another similar hospital was built at Whitefield near Bangalore (about 150 km from Puttaparthi) with similar magnificent architecture and state-of-the-art equipment as well.
In both hospitals medical care is free of charge for patients. Though some doctors, SSB's followers, work there as volunteers for a period of time, the regular running of such a hospital needs substantial funding. To support the working of those two hospitals there is a special trust (Sri Sathya Sai Medical Trust) which accumulates donations from Indian and overseas donors. It has nothing to do with the Sathya Sai Organisation and Sai Baba apparently plays a key role in decision making.
But according to Dr. Safaya what makes SSB's hospitals unique is different system of values: "The difference from other similar ventures lies in the basic spiritual concept that is the very foundation of this project - namely, adherence to the five human values of truth, righteousness, peace, love, and non-violence". (World Health Forum, 1998, v.19, No 2, p.199)
Though this information is truly fascinating, reality is not so rosy. One of the recently posted stories about Marcos Santiago's death (http://www.saiguru.net/english/articles/57death.htm) shows that lack of equipment in the hospitals and no ambulance can be responsible for some tragic lethal cases which could be easily prevented.
According to Dr. Safaya, the mortality rate in the Puttaparthi hospital is very low: "Mortality and infection rates have been below 2%, figures that are comparable to those in the best centres of cardiac surgery in the world". (World Health Forum, 1998, v.19, No 2, p.198) Nevertheless it is far from 100% of divine protection. So, if according to Dr. Safaya, since 1991 till 1996 a total of 5345 heart operations were performed, that means that about 100 people had infections and some died.
In the Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle of 5th November 1999, there was an article about a legal case against the Puttaparthi hospital concerning malpractices during organ transplantation. A kidney was removed from a donor but was not transplanted to a recipient as it was discovered later.
Another shocking event was Dr. Bhatia's expulsion from the Puttaparthi hospital. Dr. Bhatia was in charge for the Blood Bank and blood transfusion unit in the hospital. He was known as the author of a famous book about Sai Baba which is called "Dreams and Reality". He was very close to Sathya Sai Baba and was one of the VIP's who usually sat on the veranda during darshans. In The Findings, published by David Bailey, this expulsion is explained as a result of Dr. Bhatia's protest against SSB's sexual abuse of minors. This version is supported by Mick Brown in his article "Divine Downfall" published in The Sunday Telegraph on 8th October 2000.
In regard with these facts, the above mentioned claim of Dr. Safaya about the uniqueness of the Puttaparthi hospital sounds like a hypocritical monopolisation of human values in favour of his own institution.
Another important point for discussion is the significance of these hospitals as welfare projects. Dr. Safaya is clear about these projects being a model or an example to follow. "A single hospital of this size cannot lay claim that it will treat and cure all diseases of all patients of heart, kidney and eye in the world. The work it will do is a drop in the ocean, but it will serve as a working model for making available complicated medical technology free of charge to the deserving patients, who cannot otherwise afford it". (Sanathana Sarathi, November 1999, v.42, No 11, p.335) As Dr. Safaya calls it a "reduplicatable model", we can analyse what are those features that can be reduplicated.
First of all, it is necessary to note that it is not a cheap project. Though Dr. Safaya claims that "a very small fraction of money that goes in manufacturing the weapons of human destruction in the form of the defence budget of even the poorest country can raise funds for many such hospitals to be built…" (Sanathana Sarathi, November 1999, v.42, No 11, p.335), it is not quite correct. According to his own data from "World Health Forum" (1998, v.19, No 2, p.199), the capital costs (building, equipment, etc.) for the Puttaparthi hospital were approximately US$ 75 million and running costs (drugs, staff salaries, etc.) for 1996 were about $ 2 million which were covered by income from a separate fund of approximately $ 30 million. Though this is different from what Sai Baba gives as running costs of the Puttaparthi hospital ($ 0.44 million or Rs. 200 crores) in his discourse of 11.08.2001, it is clear that the total amount for such a project may be about $100 million, which may be a half of a defence budget of such countries as Bangladesh, for example.
Even if a country has accumulated such funds, it must be a very well grounded solution before concentrating funds in one huge institution instead of distributing them through a net of local medical centers. What the real health problems of the population are, what their reasons are and what effective solutions can be suggested should be well researched and defined. From this point of view, cardiac problems do not look like the main health problems of rural areas of southern India. To my mind malnutrition and cholera might be more important factors of mortality rate in India.
Even if a country decides to invest such money into a big institution like the Puttaparthi hospital, an important question is where to locate it. According to Sai Baba, such a hospital located in a rural area is easier to get to for people from villages. "Above all, you should inquire why a highly sophisticated and most modern hospital, which should be located in a well developed metropolis has been set up in this rural area. The wealthy can go anywhere and get medical relief with their abundant resources. But the rural poor cannot go far from their villages for treatment. It is for the sake of such poor folk that this hospital has been established". (23.11.1991. Sathya Sai Speaks, v.XXIV, p.309)
But in regard to such a big institution like the Puttaparthi hospital, this logic does not work. It would work for a net of small hospitals or medical centers spread around rural areas. A big institution inevitably should serve a large area with a large population and, from the point of view of communication, it should be located in a big city. If a big institution is located in a remote place, only a small portion of a population from the nearest villages won't have to go far to get it. People from other villages will have much more trouble to get to a remote place than to some town or city.
All these considerations make these Super Speciality hospitals projects with a double meaning. From one point of view they can be interpreted as charity projects to alleviate human sufferings, but at the same time they can be interpreted as effective tools for image making and powerful fund attraction to Sai Baba. Even the location of two hospitals as close as about 150 km from each other might seem to be strange. An explanation might be very simple: both of them are located next to Sai Baba's ashrams.
Anyway, even if we accept that those hospitals are models for reduplication, until now there have been no signs that any organisation or government was impressed by those models and inspired to use them. Though Sai Baba promised to build hospitals like those in every Indian state, it seems unrealistic. It took 9 years from the first hospital built in 1991 till the second one built in 2000. Taking into account SSB's life span of predicted 92/3 years we can expect building no more than another 2 such hospitals provided the funds will be almost doubled.
Generally speaking, the whole pattern of social development in Puttaparthi and neighbouring areas has a flavour of double meaning (or "hidden curriculum" as it is called in education). For example, while having a wonderful university and schools, Sai Baba apparently did nothing to help small schools situated in Puttaparthi. I personally visited a school which was located in 5 minutes walk from the ashram "Prashanthi Nilayam". It was a school for orphans, and it was run by SSB's devotees. What I saw was a sad picture: children crowded in small dark rooms, lack of teachers, lack of school supplies, severe financial problems and so on.
Sathya Sai Baba says: "…a university, a big hospital, an aerodrome and many other things have been established for the benefit of the villagers …" (23.11.1990. Sathya Sai Speaks, v.XXIII, p.296). But it is difficult to imagine that local villagers or Puttaparthi citizens were really in need for a university or an aerodrome.
The aerodrome has never been used to full capacity. It stood entirely unused (but for a couple of VIP visits) during at least the first whole year after construction. Now there are only two flights per week, and they are often cancelled because of the lack of passengers. As a business investment, it would be a disaster and would surely have been bankrupted.
he Museum of Spiritual Heritage, which should present a variety of humanity's spiritual quest, has a very low profile from scientific point of view with a lot of the space occupied by an exposition devoted to Sai Baba. It is open only for a short time, as far as I remember from 10 to 12 in the morning. However, a new museum of a similar type "Chaitanya Jyoti" (now devoted completely to Sai Baba) was built and opened in November 2000 to celebrate Sai Baba's 75th birthday.
The planetarium is open only several times a year during big festivals. The Hillview Stadium with its gigantic sculptures is also used only several times a year. Now even a new railway station has been built in Puttaparthi. For an unprejudiced observer, it may seem strange why the stadium for Puttaparthi citizens was built before a sewage system, and why the planetarium was erected before the streets in Puttaparthi got a hard-surface.
Boasting about his own charity achievements, SSB manipulates people's minds, creating an illusion that, for example, free medical care is available only from SSB and nowhere else in the whole world. In order to realise that it is absolutely wrong, it is enough to mention his famous contemporary and compatriot, Catholic nun, Mother Theresa, whose charity work saved lives of thousands of people in India. In many countries known as welfare states (from UK, Scandinavia to Italy, Greece, Australia and in many other countries etc.), both hospitals, schools, colleges and universities are mostly built and paid for by the government (taxpayer) and offer free or nearly-free health care (despite some charges to reduce waste and irresponsible overuse). Most State schools offer tuition gratis in many countries around the world. The funding by super-rich persons on a charitable basis is not - and doubtless never can be - a viable alternative or model for future developments. Besides, such medical institutions as SSB runs avoid all forms of public inspection and control of funds, workforce and admissions. This is surely a recipe for elitism and autocratic rule, not for openness and any transparent common good
It might sound cynical and even blasphemous for SSB's devotees, but along with charitable effects practically all the projects run by him demonstrate clear signs of a hidden agenda.
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