Kerala may be touting its exemplary efforts on the organ donation vis-a-vis noble gestures, mass movements and government initiatives, but an unwarranted spat over it is now raging in the state.
Reputed filmmaker Sreenivasan, who is known to make himself heard on social issues, triggered the discourse: organ donation is a trick by profit-greedy hospitals and many who received organs lived only for a short span, he said at a press meet in Kochi recently.
Many dubbed these remarks as insensitive, forcing Sreenivasan to backtrack on his comments. He also apologized to Mathew Achadan, who is still living with a donated heart. But that was not the end of it.
The issue came back to spotlight again, with actor-MP Innocent joining the discourse. Addressing a gathering of organ receivers in Kochi, Innocent termed his friend-colleague's remarks as born out of "ignorance".
And going by statistics, government initiatives and testimonies by those who survive on donated organs, one must go by Innocent this time, notwithstanding the fact that Sreenivasan has a laudable record for his sensible social narrative.
Sreenivasan's earlier articulated line of thinking undermines the fantastic achievement the state gained in the healthcare sector as a result of constant and sincere attempts by governments, healthcare agencies and philanthropists. The remarks also come against the backdrop of a surge in organ donations in the state.
Successive governments, especially after 2000, have been making all efforts to create awareness among people and promote organ donation. The Kerala Network for Organ Donation (Mrithasanjeevani), the state government's online transplant registry, has in fact turned to be a model for the rest of the country.
The registry, set up in 2012, maintains records of patients on waiting list for kidney, liver, heart and pancreas transplants in the state and help the needy find donors.
According to data published in KNOS' website, there has been a steady and a very encouraging rise in organ donation in the state in the last four years: The number of major organs donated rose to 172 in as of October 2016 from a meagre 22 as of August 2012.
According to a news report in a national magazine, the proportion of kidneys from cadaveric (deceased) donors rose to 17 percent in 2015 in Kerala, from just 4 percent in 2012.
All these exemplary figures are the results of constant efforts from the part of government, NGOs and media to create awareness about organ transplants.
When it comes to organ donation, the biggest hurdle that doctors and healthcare agencies face is social stigma.
People often refuse to donate organs due to unwarranted fears stemming from several reasons including religious beliefs.
And that's exactly where one should worry about statements like the one from Sreenivasan. The remarks could reinforce those misgivings and create confusion among the masses, who take such views for granted and discourage them from extending a helping hand to the needy.
Sreenivasan may have apologized for the remarks, but the majority of masses might still stick to his original argument, thinking why should they go through all the complications involved in the process of organ donation and help hospitals make huge sums of money.
The government and other agencies concerned now have to step up efforts to clear the air.
Moreover, the authorities also have to address the concerns raised by Sreenivasan and like-minded people. The government needs to go for stricter checks on the monetary affairs involved in organ transplants. It also has to crack the whip on organ rackets to which the poor, innocent and ignorant people fall prey.
Post Sreenivasan's comments, social media, especially instant messaging apps like WhatsApp are being pounded with stories of multi-speciality hospitals allegedly making huge profits in the name of organ transplant.
The government needs to keep a tab on this and act against the erring. If any hospital is found to be involved in corrupt and unethical practices, they must be brought to the book.
Equally important is to find out those who spread rumors and baseless allegations. Authorities should also ensure that those belonging to the economically backward strata are able to avail the benefits of the advanced technologies at affordable charges.
Before making a outlandish statement in a sensitive issue, Sreenivasan should have had a chat with his peer Salim Kumar, who also lives with a donated organ.