Les Misérables

April 23, 2020

By – Arnaz Dalal
(Equitable Healthcare Access Consortium)

“if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them” (Karl Raimund Popper)

And today, I refer to the ‘Tolerant’ as our Health care workers …. Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics et al and the ‘Intolerant’ as WE, the common men and women or in this context, the Les Misérables!!

It is indeed a matter of great shame that in these difficult COVID times when the country’s resources and machinery are focused towards controlling the spread of this deadly virus, the Cabinet had to approve an ordinance in haste today, to protect healthcare workers from violence and ongoing stigmatization.

I use the words SHAME because the very healthcare work force that we applauded a couple of weeks back, on our balconies, by clapping and banging our thalis to say “Thank You” for the service to mankind that they were selflessly providing, are the very same ones who have been attacked, mobbed, berated and ostracized since. And the intolerance took on a whole new dimension when the last rites of two COVID afflicted doctors, who hailed from Nellore and Chennai, were not allowed to take place. Stones and logs were pelted to damage the hearse van carrying the bodies and abuses hurled at the relatives and healthcare workers accompanying the body. COVID is a disease which anyway keeps one away in life and death from their loved ones, who would normally surround you in such times. To top it, that there is no dignity provided even in death to the Doctors, would make any conscientious citizen of the country cringe with disgust and hang his head in shame

According to a recent WHO Report, between 8% and 38% of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers. Also, in disaster and conflict situations, health workers may become the targets of collective or political violence. This collective violence on Doctors and Nurses, by people who have no understanding of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of this disease, and in almost all cases, armed with incorrect information, pose a huge threat to our healthcare system. If strict and speedy action is not taken against the violence-mongers on the ground by the authorities, to provide teeth to the legislation passed by the federal government yesterday, one will see even the so-called ‘tolerants’ and fence-sitters becoming intolerant. This would have a cascading deleterious impact on India’s already precarious healthcare system. Have we even thought of what would happen to the country in a scenario of intermittently escalating COVID (or possibly other viruses in the future), a very likely spectre, if the healthcare fraternity throws up their hands and decides collectively to boycott providing their services?

A video, which has gone viral, shows a mob throwing stones at two female doctors in the central city of Indore. The doctors had gone to a densely-populated area to check on a woman suspected of having Covid-19 when they came under attack. Yet another doctor, who did not wish to be identified, said she felt “extremely disheartened when I learnt that even my neighbours think that me and my family shouldn’t be allowed to live in the building!”. There have been several cases of healthcare workers on COVID-19 duty being attacked by mobs in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengaluru. The list is sickeningly endless. How much more self-centred can we as a society become? Just care about ‘I, me and myself’ and to hell with the rest of the world!!

Contrast this to an Indian-origin doctor, Uma Madhusudan, who got a brilliant 100-car salute for her extraordinary service amid COVID in USA, as she stood by the doorway of her home.

On a related note, doctors, nurses and healthcare workers of this country have been sent to fight against COVID-19 without proper kits and they are dying. While our government hails India’s medical community as “warriors” in the country’s fight against coronavirus, the fact of the matter is that doctors in the hinterland are wearing raincoats and helmets in isolation wards, as this is the only armour at their disposal. If the value of their services is not realised, the easiest thing for the doctor community will be to sit at home. Who then will be the bigger sufferers?

This menace and discrimination against India’s frontline workers needs to stop, not in some distant future, but NOW! They make innumerable sacrifices: working extended hours, sacrificing family time, their personal life, without food and deprived of sleep! And in return, what do they get? They find themselves subjects of violence, hatred, insults, and much more. How do we expect them to carry on, in such inhuman conditions? Are we thinking at all of the repercussions of all this violence being unleashed on the people who are saving us, at this hour of need, when the country is on its knees crying for mercy? Or, are we just indulging in knee-jerk reactions and constant fire-fighting?

Just as doctors have responsibility towards their patients, we as a society, comprising of patients and their relatives, the general public, political parties, media and government, have a hallowed duty to ensure that we offer a safety net to our healthcare workers, if not overtly celebrate them as was done for Dr. Uma Madhusudan in USA. There is no choice other than to ensure that the current situation on the ground improves quickly and violence against doctors and nurses is dealt with, using an iron hand. The ordinance passed yesterday is a step in the right direction to secure our healthcare workforce. However, every ordinance is effective only if there is stringent ground-level implementation.

For all of us, who are not healthcare workers, it is our moral duty to support these brave hearts who are defying death at every step during this pandemic just so that YOU and I do not have to lose a loved one! So, stop being ignorant and read up and arm yourself with the correct information instead of panicking needlessly and making an already bad situation worse. If nothing else, just be humane. It does not cost you to be kind and understanding to your brethren, especially those who are working tirelessly to save your life!

(Pic credit : Melbourne’s Murals and Interior Design)

While this article is written with a focus on the healthcare fraternity, it by no means takes away the spotlight from the police, civic staff, government authorities and all the numerous others who are toiling endlessly to ensure that the lockdown is made as pain free for us as possible whilst fighting this pandemic.

We at EHAC would like to offer our deepest gratitude and a big ‘Thank you!’ to all the healthcare fraternity and the various frontline workers & support staff for stepping up and going way beyond the call of their duty, in the service of our country

Jai Hind!


https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/why-threat-violence-against-doctors-though-unacceptable-may-be-getting-us- better-healthcare

https://www.mangalorean.com/mysuru-origin-dr-uma-madhusudan-gets-brilliant-100-car-salute-for-extraordinary- service-amid-covid-in-us/

The author is the CEO of Equitable Healthcare Access Consortium, a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to enhance equitable access to healthcare, education and livelihoods to the people of India. The opinions expressed are her personal views.

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