The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Quack quack goes Bengal

Calcutta, June 6: When there aren’t enough doctors for health centres, what does a government do' It tries to get more doctors. Wrong.

China experimented with “barefoot doctors”. Bengal, also ruled by a party that calls itself communist, has decided to hand over the reins of primary health centres to homeopaths and ayurveds. They will begin to take charge of at least 322 primary health centres in two months.

“We have decided that two-thirds of the 921 primary health centres will have homeopaths and ayurveds running outdoor departments and in one-third, they will be working in indoor sections as well,” the director of health services, Prabhakar Chatterjee, said.

“In the first phase, we have completed identifying 322 centres which were earlier run by MBBS doctors, but were not viable, either due to their remote location or inadequate infrastructure. The allopathic doctors at these centres will be replaced by homeopaths and the MBBS doctors will go to the block primary health centres, from where they will visit the primary centres, perhaps once a week,” he added.

Every year, nearly 250 homeopaths and at least 50 ayurveds pass out in Bengal. For the last few decades, they have been clamouring for recognition, which they seem to be getting.

But the decision to withdraw MBBS doctors and replace them with homeopaths and ayurveds has invited sharp criticism from all quarters, particularly the pro-Trinamul Calcutta branch of the Indian Medical Association. “It seems the Bengal government is bent on going back to the past. At a time when medical science has advanced by leaps and bounds, we are returning to a form of medicine no one is sure about. This will never solve the state’s healthcare problems,” said R.D. Dubey, speaking for the branch.

Neurosurgeon Ajay Agarwal said: “The entire health system might collapse. How can a patient receiving homeopathy (or ayurvedic) treatment at the primary level get allopathic treatment at the secondary level'”

The three streams of medicine are not complementary. Besides, homeopathy or ayurved can be an optional — not a compulsory — method of treatment.

Bengal, however, can always cite the Chinese instance where “barefoot doctors” knew only to set bones, deliver babies and treat wounds. That was 50 years ago, though.

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