In Focus by The Hindu

The Hindu

A podcast from The Hindu that delves deep into current developments with subject experts, and brings in context, history, perspective and analysis. read less
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Episodes

What's behind the furore over the AstraZeneca vaccine | In Focus podcast
May 18 2024
What's behind the furore over the AstraZeneca vaccine | In Focus podcast
Covid-19 may not be raging any more, but a controversy over the AstraZeneca vaccine, sold as Covishield in India is. The issue first erupted when AstraZeneca, in a submission to a court in the UK, acknowledged that its vaccine could cause a rare, potentially life-threatening condition, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome or TTS. This led to everything from outrage on social media, to political parties issuing statements and to a host of misinformation being circulated. What is significant is that this information about TTS is not new – it was established as early as in 2021, when India’s vaccination programme was underway, and it has been a known fact now for well over three years. Just a short time after the court submission made headlines, AstraZeneca also announced the worldwide withdrawal of its vaccine, citing a decline in the demand. As of this year, India has administered over 1.5 billion doses of Covishield to its eligible population.  What led to the furore over the vaccine’s rare side effect and what do we know about it? How robust is India’s system to monitor adverse events arising from vaccinations? And what happens to India’s vaccination programme if Covishield is no longer available – are there other options available for those who need them or for future immunisations?  Guest: Dr Anurag Agrawal, Dean, BioSciences and Health Research, Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University  Host: Zubeda Hamid  Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
Why is Israel not OK with the Gaza ceasefire plan that was accepted by Hamas? | In Focus podcast
May 10 2024
Why is Israel not OK with the Gaza ceasefire plan that was accepted by Hamas? | In Focus podcast
Seven months into Israel’s military assault on Gaza, more than 34,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed, more than 78,000 wounded, and northern Gaza is facing a “full-blown famine” according to the UN. Earlier this week, there was a slight whiff of optimism in Gaza when Hamas announced that it had accepted a three-phase ceasefire proposal brokered by Qatar and Egypt, and Israel, too, sent a delegation to Cairo to discuss it further. But in the interim, Israel ordered Rafah to be evacuated, launched aerial strikes on the city, and took control of the border crossing there, which was critical for sending humanitarian aid to Gaza. Meanwhile, President Biden has halted a major shipment of bombs headed for Israel, signalling that US weapons should not be used to target Palestinian civilians. What exactly was the ceasefire proposal that Hamas accepted but Israel didn’t? Will the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future survive a ceasefire agreement at this stage of the conflict, when Israel’s self-proclaimed military objective of “destroying Hamas” hasn’t been met? Would the Biden administration’s pausing of the shipment of offensive weapons have any effect on Israel’s military plans going forward? Guest: Stanly Johny, The Hindu’s International Affairs Editor. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
Indian spices unsafe: Do food safety laws in Indian need an overhaul? | In Focus podcast
May 7 2024
Indian spices unsafe: Do food safety laws in Indian need an overhaul? | In Focus podcast
A massive controversy has erupted in the world of spices, masalas and mixes, with products of two leading Indian players, MDH and Everest in the midst of this. The Hong Kong and Singapore governments suspended the sale and withdrew certain masalas of these two brands, stating that they contained higher than permissible limits of a pesticide, ethylene oxide. Multiple governments of other countries have now announced investigations into these products from India. After this, the Spices Board and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, or FSSAI announced a slew of measures for spices as well as other foods, to test for contamination and to ensure they are up to standards.  In the meantime though, the FSSAI has been under criticism for another issue – the allowing of a ten-fold increase in maximum residue limit from 0.01 milligrams per kg to 0.1 in spices and herbs, in cases of pesticides not registered in India or in cases where the maximum limit is not defined in Indian or international regulations.  What is going on with pesticides and masalas in India? How unsafe are the foods, especially processed foods that are sold in India? What are the regulations we have in place, and how effectively are these being implemented? Do we need a more stringent system to ensure food safety and public health in India?  Guest: Dr Vandana Prasad, a community paediatrician and public health professional associated with the Public Health Resource Network  Host: Zubeda Hamid  Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
What will be the impact of IRDAI regulation asking health insurers to cover those above 65 years of age? | In Focus podcast
May 3 2024
What will be the impact of IRDAI regulation asking health insurers to cover those above 65 years of age? | In Focus podcast
The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has asked health insurance companies to offer their products to everyone, regardless of their age. Until now, health insurance was readily available for anyone up to the age of 65, with companies under no obligation to cover those older. But now IRDAI has said insurance firms can extend their health coverage to everyone regardless of their pre-existing medical conditions. Both these changes are part of a wider set of reforms under the long term goal of “Insurance for All by 2047”, and they have mostly been welcomed as a positive development. But there is always the fine print, and questions remain about how these measures will pan out in real life. Health coverage tends to get more expensive with age. Will senior citizens be able to afford the packages designed by private insurers? What do the norms say regarding the ‘waiting period’ for pre-existing conditions? And will these measures be enough to reduce out-of-pocket medical expenditure, which is one of the highest in the world in India? Guest: Professor T Sundararaman, a public health expert, who has served as Executive Director of National Health Systems Resource Centre and as Dean and Professor at the School of Health Systems Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. Host: G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu. Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
AAP-Congress alliance: What's the impact on AAP's 'anti-political' appeal?
May 2 2024
AAP-Congress alliance: What's the impact on AAP's 'anti-political' appeal?
In a setback to the Opposition INDIA alliance in Delhi, which is basically the alliance between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee President Arvinder Singh Lovely has resigned from his post, and one of the reasons he has cited is his party’s tie-up with AAP. Lovely’s resignation letter has put the spotlight on what is widely recognised as a big contradiction – an alliance between the Congress party, and a party that came into being to combat the kind of political decadence that the Congress allegedly represented. In fact, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has spent much of the last ten years targeting the Congress more than any other party, and in turn, the Delhi state leadership of the Congress has spent much of its energies targeting AAP. Furthermore, it is the Congress that’s the original complainant in the alleged liquor scam case that has landed Kejriwal in jail. So, how does this alliance square with the founding credo of the Aam Aadmi Party? How can AAP explain this alliance to its supporters? Given that the two parties have suddenly found ‘anti-BJPism’ more attractive as a political plank than anti-corruption, does this alliance then indicate that the founders of AAP – several of whom are currently in jail on corruption charges – were fundamentally wrong in their understanding of political corruption? G. Sampath is joined by Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court advocate and a former leader with AAP.
What impact will the unrelenting heat have on India’s future health? | In Focus podcast
Apr 29 2024
What impact will the unrelenting heat have on India’s future health? | In Focus podcast
This March was the hottest on record globally, the 10th month in a row to hit this peak. This has led to a 1.58 degree Celsius spike in the global average temperature, compared to pre-industrial levels. This doesn’t feel surprising – most parts of India have been sweltering since last month, the India Meteorological Department or IMD hadd forecast heatwave conditions in parts of at least 10 States last week and it's only going to get worse in May. This year, the heat is even believed to have impacting voting in our crucial general election, and the Election Commission has now set up a taskforce to oversee heatwave conditions.  We’re used to scorching summers in India – but experts say that heatwaves are now arriving earlier in the year, are more frequent and are also lasting longer – which means they have a huge impact on the health of humans and animals, on our agriculture and food, on our cities, our water resources and our energy supplies.  How does the unrelenting heat affect our bodies and our long-term health into the future? Do our food crops become less nutritious as temperatures rise? Do India’s standards for heatwaves need updating? Where is our country placed, globally, when it comes to extreme climate events and can we expect more of these in the near future?    Guest: Poornima Prabhakaran, Director, Centre for Health Analytics Research and Trends (CHART), Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University  Host: Zubeda Hamid  Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.
What do Nestle's sugary baby cereals say about Indian food safety laws?
Apr 24 2024
What do Nestle's sugary baby cereals say about Indian food safety laws?
Baby foods, drinks and protein powders have all been in the news of late – are these products harming rather than helping your health? The latest controversy has centred around Nestle, a well known brand in India – an investigation recently found that all Nestle baby cereals sold in India contained almost 3g of added sugar – but the same cereals sold in European markets had no added sugar. The harmful effects of sugar are now well known – it can contribute to obesity as well as multiple health complications later in life. The Centre has now asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to look into this. Other news involved the government asking e-commerce sites to stop the classification of Bournvita and other such beverages under the ‘health drinks’ category. And just before that, we were given the shocking news that many protein powders not only do not have the amount of proteins they advertise, but may also have harmful components. So what are the laws regarding baby food and processed food in our country? How are companies allowed to advertise these foods and drinks and can they be labelled healthy? Who looks into the safety of these products that are found in our supermarkets? And what does India need to do to classify which foods are healthy, and which are unhealthy, considering the huge burden of obesity, diabetes and heart disease that the country is grappling with? Zubeda Hamid speaks to Dr Arun Gupta, public health expert, central coordinator of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India and convener of the Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest.
Will the new wildlife rules accelerate illegal trade of India's captive elephants | In Focus podcast
Apr 18 2024
Will the new wildlife rules accelerate illegal trade of India's captive elephants | In Focus podcast
The Indian government recently brought in an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act with regard to captive elephants. This amendment, the rules for which came in last month, regulates the transfer or transport of captive elephants, and has sparked an outcry from animal rights activists. Elephants are, according to the Wildlife Protection Act, a Schedule 1 species – offered the highest protection under the law. Captive elephants however, because of their historical role in India where they have been part of royal estates, used in timber logging and still used in temples for religious festivals, come under a special category, but there were still strict rules governing their transfer. Now however, with this new amendment, the transfer of elephants is allowed for ‘religious or any other purposes’ – this vague definition, researchers say can revive illegal commercial trade and trafficking of elephants, something the country has been trying to curb for decades. Concerns have also been raised about Vantara, Anant Ambani’s rehabilitation centre in Jamnagar, Gujarat, which has come under criticism for its housing of a large number of elephants.  Why was this amendment brought in? What does this mean for the 2,600-or so captive elephants across the country? Are wild elephants continuing to be captured and illegally sold? And what is the way forward to rehabilitate captive elephants in the country?  Guest: Alok Hisarwala, lawyer and researcher, founder of Centre for Research and Animal Rights, Goa  Host: Zubeda Hamid  Edited by Sharmada venkatasubramanian.