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273 doctors have died of Covid but govt yet to respond to letter seeking aid, says IMA

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New Delhi: Around 273 doctors have died of the novel coronavirus while on the front line of battling the pandemic, but the Centre-sponsored benefits haven’t reached their intended recipients, Dr R.V. Asokan, general secretary of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), has said.

Pointing out that private doctors are not even included under this scheme, Dr Asokan, in a Skype interview with ThePrint, said that the doctors’ body had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi two weeks ago, highlighting the issue, but is yet to hear from him.

“The Rs 50 lakh compensation is only being provided to government doctors who are losing their lives in fighting Covid-19. The government needs to extend this benefit to private practitioners as well,” Asokan said.

“When the pandemic does not differentiate between people, why should benefits and compensations be different?”

Dr Asokan said the letter to PM Modi was sent on 8 August, when the death toll was 196. “In the last two weeks, the toll has climbed to 273 doctors. Yet, we still haven’t received a response from the central government.”

In its letter, signed by both Asokan and IMA President Rajesh Bhushan, the doctors’ body has requested the Prime Minister to ensure adequate care for doctors and their families, and extend state-sponsored medical and life insurance facilities to doctors in all sectors.

ThePrint reached V. Ravi Rama Krishna, the additional director general for Press Information Bureau, handling the PMO, though phone, email and text messages for a comment regarding the letter, but did not get any response till the time of publishing this report. An email has also been sent to Hiren Joshi, Officer on Special Duty (Communications and IT), PMO. This report will be updated when a response is received.

‘Private doctors worst affected’

According to data collected by the IMA through its network of 3.5 lakh doctors across private and government hospitals, 1,096 doctors had been infected across India as of 24 August.

Of the 1096, 901 are practising doctors while the rest are house surgeons and residents.

Of the 901 practising doctors, 273 have died in the line of duty, Asokan said. “The mortality rate among private doctors is now 15 per cent while among government doctors it is 8 per cent,” he said.

According to IMA’s findings, the mortality rate has been highest among general practitioners and neighbourhood doctors, Asokan said.

Over 40 per cent of the doctors who have died have been general practitioners, as these doctors are the first line of defence for patients showing Covid symptoms but are not equipped with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), he added.

“While the Centre has equipped hospitals with PPEs, doctors who treat patients before the hospitalisation stage are not well protected,” he said.

“According to the central government guidelines, PPEs for outpatient doctors (OPD) include only N95 masks and gloves. But most neighbourhood clinics are small and congested. Patients with fever sit and wait along with others. Masks and gloves are not enough. Triaging patients into fever and non-fever categories is also not done here and eventually the doctors too get infected in such a scenario.”

The IMA has also found that of the doctors who have died, the majority have been in the high risk group of over 50 years of age.

“Of the 273 doctors who have died, 226 were above 50 years of age,” Asokan said. “So while more younger people may get infected, mortality remains high among older doctors.”

‘No response from Centre, but some states have helped’

The IMA general secretary further said that while the Modi government is yet to act on the letter, some states have taken measures to help doctors.

“We had annexed the number of doctors killed with our letter to the Prime Minister. But when we saw that the letter had not evoked any response, we shared the names of the doctors with state governments, so that they could verify and help the families,” Asokan said.

“States like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and even Andhra Pradesh have been proactive and announced compensation, but the IMA doesn’t have any knowledge of families actually receiving compensation,” he added.

Along with the compensation and adequate care for families of doctors who have died in the line of duty, the IMA has also called for systemic changes in India’s healthcare system.

“The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. We need to overhaul the entire healthcare system. Health emergencies need to be dealt with by doctors and not non-doctors just because they are officials,” Asokan said.

“What the government can do is to ensure that at least 5-6 per cent of our GDP expenditure is devoted to healthcare again. Public healthcare institutions have helped India fight this pandemic, otherwise we would have collapsed like other countries.”

The print

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