The Lancet Comes Under Fire Over Report on Health of Kashmiris

Prominent medical journal The Lancet has recently come under fire for their editorial on Kashmir amidst India revoking Article 370 and subsequently increasing military presence in the Valley. The journal raised concern for the “health, safety and freedoms” of the people.

On Monday, 19 August, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) tweeted its reaction to The Lancet editorial, saying it “withdraws the esteem” for the publication.

The letter addressed to the editor of The Lancet condemned the “breach of propriety in commenting on the political issue,” and on “interfering in the internal matter of the Union of India...in the garb of health concerns.”

The Indian government's decision to revoke Article 370 has been met with both vociferous support and protest. However, opposing voices have been met with, often vicious, trolling.

International media, from The New York Times to The Guardian, has been trolled for their reportage on Kashmir.

But the criticism against The Lancet is whether a medical journal should be writing on political issues. Those speaking in favour of the journal say that politics impacts every aspect of our life - from our sexuality to our healthcare access - so why is it so outrageous that a health-first journal spoke about a political issue (especially from a healthcare-first perspective.)

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Politics Impacts Every Aspect of Your Life - Including Your Health

The decision in Kashmir was mutli-pronged and impacted various other areas from businesses to education to health.

That is because, again, political decisions have far-reaching impact and political impasses have a direct impact on people’s mental and physical health.

Like the war-cry of second-wave feminism, ‘the personal is the political’ and the personal includes health.

In the The Lancet editorial, it was written that the political instability and a “protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis.” Kashmir has a long, tumultuous tryst with insurgency, so it is no wonder that this bleeds into their mental health causing increased rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report mentions that Kashmir has been attacked from “both sides” namely, India and Pakistan. It quoted a July 2019 UN Report on the situation in Kashmir which outlined several human rights violations by state security forces and armed groups. Despite UN reports of terrorism, sexual violence, cross-border firings and more both India and Pakistan have largely dismissed the findings.

The Lancet report heavily stressed the mental health impact from their “decades-old conflicts.”

Also Read: India Among Countries With High Childhood Cancer Burden: Lancet

Trolls Attack Lancet

From whataboutery, to telling The Lancet to mind its own business or stick to health, Twitterati came down hard on their latest editorial.

There were comments deriding the piece and publication calling it “biased and trashy” and while a lot of these are deplorable, is asking the journal to stay out of politics naive and wrong?

The connection between your socio-political context and your mental health is well documented (for example, this WHO report that states that mental health issues are largely shaped by the “ social, economic, and physical environments in which people live.”) This means that social inequalities, and environmental conditions directly and often adversely impact your mental health.

Since social conditions and inequalities are closely affected by political decisions, it makes sense to conclude that politics does indeed impact a population’s health.

Besides this, a political impasse or a clampdown especially can directly impact healthcare access and there are reports of being unable to call ambulances or reach emergency services in time. There were also reports emerging on severe shortage of life-saving drugs including insulin.

The Lancet has not reacted to the criticism so far.

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