Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Doctors in Bengal to be paid double for rural duty

While catching up on my weekly dose of news from Bengal, I come across a piece announcing that doctors in Bengal will henceforth (at some indefinite date I presume) be paid double for rural duty. Hmmmm interesting. Two thoughts are bubbling to the surface.

First of all, I must applaud the West Bengal government for finally waking up and smelling the coffee, and hope that more states realize the need for steps like these. Ours is a country where a huge majority of the population lives in rural areas, where most basic amenities are still appallingly lacking. The access to Medical services in even larger mufassil towns is dismal for most of people who cannot afford the sky high “private nursing home” price tags.

Although a number of states, like West Bengal, make it mandatory for all young doctors passing the MBBS exam in the state, from Government run institutes, to serve a few months in a rural posting (at a health center) before they are issued a license. This is a laudable effort to improve the services provided by the government health centers. However, in practice, it doesn’t work.

My own social circle in Kolkata has a number of doctors who hilariously recount how they managed to avoid going to the health centers during their postings. It seems to be a matter of pride among them, a sort of “look how smart I am and how I am taking the government for a ride” contest, not to have actually gone on duty even once. Even the ones who actually bother to travel all the way to the allotted posting site, almost never actually treat a single patient. They sign the roster, and leave.

The blame is easy to heap, but there’s more than pone side to this. Most doctors will tell you the pathetic conditions of the health centers. No medicines, almost no basic equipment, lack of nurses, are only the tip of the iceberg. Given such conditions, one is almost tempted to excuse the derelict doctors, and blame the government. But there is another side too. if the government is callous, so are the doctors. If doctors visited regularly, and made their presence felt, things might just improve. After all, young doctors in Kolkata seem happy enough to get together to assault the press and public for any real or perceived insult, slight, injustice. Why not show the same solidarity and the same strength for a worthy cause?

Which brings us to the main point. The increasing shallowness and “not my problem” attitude that we are growing, encouraging, and inculcating. Basically, we, them, doctors, powers that be, et al, couldn’t care less! Duty, service, ethics, morals….just words. And not very meaningful words either. Even basic humanity is fast evaporating from India, and the world. Given these circumstances, maybe double pay is what it will take to make some doctors available to rural India. Maybe now one less person will have to take a dying relative or friend over miles and miles of bad, or nonexistent, roads only to find a center with no doctor and no medicines.

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