Interview with Amitav Banerjee

Book: Covid-19 Pandemic: A Third Eye

About the Book: “Dr. Amitav Banerjee has a knack of conveying seemingly complex public health messages in a lucid manner, understandable and appealing to experts as well as to the layperson. His writings are gripping, like a story, while at the same time educating the reader on subtle issues with apt analogies. This collection of his writings is a treatise for posterity and essential reading if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past.” Dr Bhaskaran Raman, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. It is indeed refreshing to go through the well-written essays, enriched with wits and humour from an erudite and distinguished personality who enjoys a robust experience on the nuances of public health in our country. He has rightly drawn our attention to the ‘politicization, corruption and suppression of science’ by the big pharma and tech companies, thus making us forget the golden principles of ‘evolutionary biology’. The readers will certainly realize that clarity and perception arise when the ‘third eye’ opens up, for it symbolizes a state of enlightenment. Dr Amitav Banerjee is a rare bird to see in our modern medical parlour who can dispel the illusion of control with his lucid writings and fascinating evidence. He has also exposed the ‘cracks in our public health and regulatory systems’ so eloquently that one will realise how not to meddle with a socio-medical issue. Dr Sthabir Dasgupta, a Kolkata-based cancer practitioner and writer.”

About the Author: Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD is currently Professor and Head of Community Medicine, Dr DY Patil Medical College, Pune. He has specialized in Public Health and is a post-doctoral in Epidemiology with over 20 years’ experience as a field epidemiologist in the Indian Armed Forces. He also headed the Mobile Epidemic Investigation Team at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune from 2000 to 2004 during which period he investigated outbreaks of pneumonia, rubella, typhoid, food poisoning.

Question 1. What is your book about?

The book chronicles the unfolding of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past couple of years. The Third Eye like the third umpire in cricket attempts to give an objective and balanced take on events unfolding during this period.

Question 2. What inspired you to write this book?

The pandemic was marked by panic throughout. From the early days the media both mainstream and social went berserk giving vivid details of cases and deaths along with images some real, others fake, of overcrowded hospitals and ICUs. Few showed people dropping dead. Soon propaganda hijacked the narrative driving people to panic and incapable of critical or rational thinking.

On the other hand, analysis of data by me along with my students and faculty at the department of community medicine, revealed some very fascinating facts from the very beginning of the pandemic. Comparison and tabulation across continents revealed that the European and American continents were 10 to 15 times more affected compared to Asian and African countries. There was also strong correlation with obesity levels of populations perhaps more than age. Our team also had opportunity to study the pandemic first hand in a population of 30 lakhs as we were given responsibility by the local administrative authorities to undertake contact tracing and serosurvey of the population during the first wave of the pandemic. This along with analysis of data at the global level gave us 360 degrees insight into the pandemic which I thought we should communicate to the population at large.

Meanwhile I got offer from National Herald to write weekly/fortnightly columns on the pandemic. This gave me opportunity to communicate with the lay population – a different target audience compared to medical professionals. While writing these columns and interaction with my journalist friends I acquired skills of writing for the larger audience beyond my limited professional circle.

The next step of compiling all these as a collection in the form of a book was a natural one.

Question 3. What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

We hope the readers understand the dynamics and natural history of pandemics so that they can come out of the panic and lead a normal life. The pandemic and the measures to control it have been traumatic and have fractured society. Ignorance breeds panic and takes away the powers of critical thinking. Correct information and proper analysis conveyed in a lucid manner can restore rational thought and empower the people.

Question 4. Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?

No. I am an academician and writing for scientific journals is part of my job. This is the first time I am writing for the lay audience.

Question 5. What was your dream job when you were younger?

I had a passion for writing during my younger days. Writing by doctors did inspire me. Perhaps this made me choose medicine as a profession to get firsthand experience of humanity in health and suffering essential for an author.


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