Imagine being in a suffocating PPE Suit for more than 12 hours without a break, getting exhausted and tensed by the number of deaths around you, surrounded by patients having the deadly coronavirus, feeling helpless on every life you fail to save, staying away from your loved ones for months during a pandemic, and caring for people whom you have not even met before. Now with all this in mind, imagine getting hatred and violence from the very people you serve. Yes! This is what our healthcare workers have been going through since the beginning of the pandemic and at the time of receiving gratitude from the nation they are being mobbed and beaten violently. The media is surfacing with news about violence and harassment on those very people who have chosen our lives above their own.
Throughout the pandemic we have been hearing news about patient’s acquaintances and sometimes even political leaders misbehaving with the medical staff. Already battling exhaustion and trauma, these warriors have to battle this too! The recent incident took place in Assam earlier this month when the hospital was attacked by a mob and the senior doctor was brutally assaulted. The family of a patient who had died in the state’s Udali Model Hospital, Hojai (allegedly due to lack of oxygen) brutally attacked the senior doctor with metal cans and bricks while he was on duty. The rest of the medical staff had to flee for their lives. The incident came into light when the video of violence went viral and caught the attention of netizens and the administration. Another shocking case was reported just two days after Assam’s incident when a Kerala Police Officer slapped the surgeon on duty in Alappuzha Hospital. The officer’s mother was a COVID-19 patient who was declared brought dead. The officer alleged that his mother’s death was due to the doctor’s negligence and couldn’t control his anger which went out on the medical staff in the form of abusive language and physical violence. These are just two of the many cases that have been taking place in the country. Assam, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka are the top states which have reported such assaults. These attacks often involve shattering the hospital`s infrastructure consequence of which is bared by other patients too. Indeed losing someone you love is a traumatic experience, but this does not grant you a right to assault a frontline warrior.
According to the Indian Medical Association such cases have been increasing at an alarming rate since the onset of the pandemic but yet the real size of the problem is largely unknown and recent information shows that the current knowledge is just the tip of the iceberg. Seeing the recent rise of such cases, Dr. JA Jayalal (Chief of IMA) has called for a nationwide protest on June 18 demanding the government to introduce a Central Protection Law under the Indian Penal Code for the healthcare workers. Though no hospital or medical facility will be closed, the doctors will wear black badges to show their anger from the administration. According to reports around 75% of doctors have faced violence in their workplace in some form or other. It has been estimated that healthcare workers are four times likely to be injured due to workplace violence than all other workers combined.
The cause of violence against doctors is multi-layered and all these aspects are interconnected with each other. This involves the hospital management, the media, the patients and their families and the governments. While hospital security should be looked after, there should also be a proper complaint redressal system which is monitored and accessible to the patients. Private hospitals need to fix their fees for the services they provide in accordance with the norms set by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India so that government hospitals do not get overburdened. Hospitals, especially the government hospitals do not have adequate facilities neither for patients nor for the doctors serving there. Many rural hospitals of Bihar and Odisha cannot even provide safe hygienic conditions for the workers there, let alone the patients. The workers there themselves work in a constant fear of getting infection like tuberculosis from a patient. Without a safe environment the patients cannot receive efficient treatment which is then expressed in form of anger.
This is where the role of government and political parties come into play. With only around 2% of our country`s budget being spent on medical facilities, India ranks 154th among 195 countries in global healthcare index. This explains the reason for lack of medical colleges which in turn causes lack of doctors and puts the remaining doctors under tremendous work pressure. Lack of healthcare infrastructure is a major cause of violence as due to this patient arriving at the hospital do not get a satisfying treatment. Sometimes political leaders are exposed assaulting a doctor which they define as – a measure to ensure proper treatment to all the patients. A similar incident came into light when a video showed a Maharastrian leader abusing her power to threaten doctors on duty. Using strong language and heckling, the leader also claimed that she can get 10 other doctors like those on duty. The medical staff kept quiet but later released a video urging her to fulfill her claims as there is acute shortage of medical staff in the hospital. The medical team further stated that it is wildly unreasonable to expect a VIP treatment in a hospital which is already struggling to cope up with the heavy influx of COVID-19 patients. The leader later apologized for her behavior after the media raised this issue but she also justified herself by calling her intentions ‘only for the good of the general public’.
A general perception that has been prevailing in the society is that doctors charge huge amount of fees from their patients and fill their pockets. Of course, there can be doctors who take advantage of a patient’s condition but which profession is untouched by corruption? Which profession has all dedicated and honest workers? None! But is it right to put allegations on those hard-working people too who work just for the love for their job? Many doctors who are currently serving in pandemic are completing their studies along with their service which can sometimes stretch up to 24 to 36 hours continuously. These are called Junior or Senior Resident Doctors. These doctors who have been serving since the past year understand the severity of this virus more than anyone and yet they are working day in and day out risking their lives. Till now around 1300 doctors have lost their lives in the first and second of Covid. Had they been just interested in making money, most of them would have stayed at home and saved their lives first because obviously no amount of money is worth a person’s life. But these doctors are risking everything and going out for service every day not because of money but because of the oath they took on the first day of their medical college.
These health care workers have families of their own too; many of them lost their family members in this pandemic like us. But unlike us they did not even get time to mourn their death and be for their families in this crisis. They have been in a complete state of burnout now because of working since the last year. They are completely exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally and yet are continuing to serve. People should understand that in a country like India which has a single doctor for every 1,457 citizens they cannot expect special attention to their patient. A doctor is as helpless as the families if there is no supply of oxygen and medicines in the hospital. Especially during a pandemic like this, when the cure of COVID-19 has not yet been discovered, doctors cannot ensure to save a patient. They can work on symptoms with the facilities they are provided by the hospital and governments. At this time during a pandemic when they are battling the second wave of COVID-19 and are even mentally preparing themselves for the third wave, the least we as citizens can do is to provide them a safe workplace. You may or may not express your gratitude towards their service but violence is something that no public profession deserves, especially when they are our saviours.
– Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: eastmojo.com