The medical fraternity in India is evidently not feeling fraternal. The Indian Medical Association was at the forefront of a battle for the reputation of doctors recently, demanding an apology from the actor, Aamir Khan, for conducting a discussion on television about medical misdemeanours. Not all doctors were comfortable with this, given the fact that the IMA has the membership of only one-third of their number. But the IMA has done it again, calling for a strike on June 25 to protest against government initiatives, such as the Clinical Establishments Act that demands certain minimum standards for all clinics, nursing homes and hospitals, and the proposal for a bachelor of rural health care course, meant to produce personnel equipped to deal with common illnesses in areas where doctors are scarce.
The IMA may have important issues, but why should it ask doctors to strike? Even if it is just a question of closing down outpatients’ departments but attending to emergencies, surely a strike cannot be the ideal form of protest for doctors? Once again, not all doctors are comfortable with this. The decision to strike raises questions about the IMA’s values. This is apart from the fact that the government’s demand for minimum standards of space, equipment, infrastructure and qualified paramedical staff for clinical institutions can hardly be called unreasonable. The IMA’s worry is that all this would raise the costs of treatment; it is puzzling that it should be so worried about patients’ pockets as to call a strike. The objection to BRHC is understandable; the IMA is afraid that the course would produce “half-baked” doctors and also allow the government to shirk its responsibility regarding facilities for health in villages. Why cannot the IMA and the government get together to evolve time-bound plans for improving health facilities according to need? Responsible professional people should not be making politics out of people’s health.