EXCLUSIVE: PM must intervene, stop misinformation campaign, recognise Covid martyr medics: IMA chief

Indian Medical Association (IMA) president Dr JA Jayalal tells SabrangIndia that attacks on doctors are a big worry, as is delay of compensations to medics martyred to Covid-19, and misinformation being spread about vaccines

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

More that 594 doctors across India have died in the line of duty after being infected by Covid-19 during the second wave, these are official figures released by the IMA. The highest number of fatalities were reported from the national capital Delhi at 107, followed by 96 deaths in Bihar and 67 deaths in Uttar Pradesh. These are numbers that are unfortunately on the rise, as there may be more cases which have gone unreported from remote corners, and even more of those doctors in private practise or those working as volunteers.

On the IMA’s website, around 864 modern medicine doctors sacrificed their lives as healthcare workers dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic last year. Then there are attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers which are on the rise, the IMA has written to Union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday, seeking a law ‘against healthcare violence’. On top of all that, there is targeting of doctors and associations who speak up against misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. The IMA has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to urgently intervene. 

SabrangIndia: Why have so many doctors succumbed to Covid-19? What measures is the IMA demanding?

Dr JA Jayalal: The reason for so many doctors’ deaths is, first the time duration which they have to work is more, demands are high, there is great mental and physical stress. They are exposed to various densities of viral load exposure. Manpower augmentation is the first thing that has to be done. Second, an assurance has to be given that when a doctor is having even a mild symptom they will be tested and comprehensive treatment will be provided at any cost at the nearby government or corporate hospital. Comprehensive healthcare should be given, and doctors, healthcare workers who have died, the government should recognise them as Covid martyrs. Now, the increasing incidents of violence against doctors is making them more tense, that is the situation where the viral infection is more  active in their lives. 

Many announcements have been made for such schemes, what has been done so far?

Nothing has been done, it is only on paper. Through insurance sectors some schemes are there, but with many bottlenecks. Out of the doctors who died last year only 163 families could even apply for that to get approved. So much of red tapism is horrible for people to deal with. Yesterday I met a family in Tamil Nadu where both the husband and wife died on duty, their child is a second medical student who is handicapped, has no support and has a handicapped sibling also. We can’t ask that family to go apply for insurance etc, it is our responsibility to provide support to them. An ex gratia payment from the government must be given. Many states are doing that, Delhi CM has announced, Tamil Nadu CM has announced, but it should be done at a national level by the central government, it is not uniform now. The health ministry has a wing called the central bureau of health intelligence, it will not take them long to identify the people and give aid quickly.

The IMA is keeping records of medics lost to Covid, has the government sought the data?

They are not asking for it, but we are sending them the data, yet they are not responding to it. In the second wave there has been no response. I don’t want to cast aspersions on why they are not doing that, but at least some acknowledgement will help boost the morale of doctors. The IMA does not want to make it political or sensationalise the deaths. It is a responsibility that the government should realise and understand. Everyone’s life is precious, and these are the people in the ward who are dying, frontline soldiers who are taking care of patients. 

What is the reason behind IMA being trolled and targeted by the right wing?

This is to divert attention from the main issue. The IMA has a 93-year-old legacy. It was set up in the period of the Independence struggle by Indian doctors, the first people to break away from British association and start one for Indian doctors. We do not need any certificates from them [right wing trolls]. We are an association, we have not endorsed any products, we have a scientific committee, a constitution, a legal department, we are registered under the societies act, our funds are audited. Whenever an advocacy role is there, we speak up. Now so much assault is happening [on doctors/nurses], we are also prioritising our work. Assault has become a big issue in the last few days, this is happening throughout the country. For example: Delhi, Karnataka and Bihar. 

Has communal targeting against health workers, including you, been seen before?

It has never happened before, and it shall never happen again. The country is going through [a lot]. When your conscience is clear, I don’t think it is worth thinking about it [the targeting]. 

Are you not planning legal action?

We are not planning anything, but they have filed some cases. I have no intention to talk on this petty issue, we have more important issues, people are dying, post Covid complication is going to be another big challenge. People are coming with a lot of respiratory problems, cardiac problems, fungal infections. India cannot be comfortable and say that the number of Covid-19 cases are coming down. There are big challenges ahead to focus on.

What is the status of the Ramdev case? Is IMA against ayurveda or homeopathy?

That is a legal battle. The case is there in the court, we are not against any system of medicine that is good for the country. Every comfort cannot be given by modern medicine, something may be better in the ayurveda system. We are opposing mixology, we will oppose it tooth and nail. The Ramdev case is a police complaint so far, I am not sure the government will be able to convert it to an FIR. We will study the situation and move the court if needed. We have written to the Prime Minister twice as his policies are being questioned. Vaccination is his policy, protocols are central government policy. if someone is objecting it is the government’s responsibility to clarify that we are going ahead with our recommendations. We will write again to the prime minister to intervene and stop this misinformation campaign. Vaccination is the only option in front of us. If someone is spreading misinformation on vaccination that is not good for the country, neither will it help anyone. 


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