Pulse

While doctors soldier on, society needs to play its part too

Ravi Wankhedkar | Updated on September 25, 2020 Published on September 25, 2020

Instead of applause/abuse, doctors want steps to ensure their safety, and that of their families

Caught between the ethical and moral responsibility of their commitment towards patients on one side and various assaults on the other, doctors and HCGs (health care givers) find themselves in a bind.

It’s eight months into the Covid- 19 pandemic, with over 57 lakh cases and 91,000 deaths, and the peak of this crisis is nowhere in sight. Doctors are exhausted, frustrated and the burnout threshold is near.

And, we are scared. More than 10,000 HCGs have been infected and over 500 have lost their lives. The rate of infection and death rate amongst HCGs is four times that of the general population.

But the assaults continue and in different forms. There is the physical violence, despite stringent laws. There are also legal assaults in the form of various directives undermining and encroaching on the autonomy of doctors. There are also financial assaults by way of huge losses in running hospitals, capping of charges without a scientific basis, with no capping of inputs and without any subsidies.

Meanwhile, as the disease spreads in the community, every patient or relative could be a potential source of infection. And that’s the difference between soldiers in war and us. Soldiers’ families are safe while our families are getting infected and dying because of us.

Close to tipping point

The frustration is building up in the doctor community because of the carelessness of people, intent on breaking safety norms. Besides, the over-bureaucratisation of healthcare is further leading to improper policies. People need to understand that the virus is constant, it is our behaviour that needs to change! So, to tire of the lockdown and head out without a mask, for instance, or be in a crowded place, is irresponsible behaviour endangering other people and adding to the pressure on the medical community.

This is a pandemic, health experts need to formulate policies and the bureaucracy implement it. But the opposite is happening! The bureaucracy seems to behave like a modern day autocracy, giving diktats, often contradictory. Fixing the virus is priority, the rest (including problems with the economy) can then be fixed and not the other way round. In the delicate balance between life and livelihood, life is the priority.

Today, doctors feel like they are in the driver’s seat of an old car (our dilapidated and chronically neglected health system), with no steering-wheel in our hand (back seat driving is by the bureaucracy), a hostile, jeering crowd (media-bashing and assaults).

And yet, they are expected to win a Formula 1 race!

The tipping point for all of us is near. Discovery of a safe and effective vaccine is still at least a year away. It’s going to be a very long haul for us. Even after a vaccine is available, there will be logistical nightmares to get everyone vaccinated. And that too will be rolled out through doctors.

For society’s well-being, the medical community should not be driven to the point of no return. The government, opinion makers and the society we live in need to understand that HCGs are also human.

We don’t need thalis (applause), nor gaalis (abuse), don’t light candles for us. Help keep us safe too, so that no one has to light candles on our graves.

Putting doctors on the high pedestal of warriors or soldiers helps the fallacies in the system to get brushed under the carpet, where we are supposed to make the supreme sacrifice even without having the necessary tools for safety.

Funds are spent on many unnecessary projects when they should have gone into building a good health care delivery system and protective gear for the HCGs. Even doctors, especially the young ones entering the system, need encouragement and a safe conducive working environment.

The medical community should get hazard pay bonus, incentives, subsidies for health care establishments, insurance cover, recognition of services, etc, from the government.

These are unprecedented times for all of us, as they are testing times too. It’s a new disease where everyone is learning. Everybody is under stress, most of all the medical community. So, the government and society have a role to play in not pushing doctors and healthcare workers to the brink.

 

The writer is former National President, Indian Medical Association; Treasurer, World Medical Association, and President SAARC Medical Association.. Views are personal

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Published on September 25, 2020
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