Over 150 children have died since June 14, due to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES), at Shri Krishna Medical College Hospital, Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
The deaths evoked anguish and widespread condemnation that sounded neither sincere nor unfamiliar. The MPs spoke predictably in the Parliament.
Doctors were blamed for failing to provide timely and proper treatment and public health centres (PHCs) and government hospitals were reprimanded for inadequate facilities.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar came under fire, not always fairly, for letting health infrastructure in his state crumble.
But no individual has a magic wand to set a system right that involves massive investments, committed doctors, enlightened and fewer patients, honest officials and selfless political leadership.
The Supreme Court can keep screaming that Indians have a basic right to medical care, nutrition and hygienic environment under Article 21 of the Constitution, but the truth is, medical facilities and quality of care can improve only marginally in PHCs and that too in spurts.
How else can you explain why kids of Muzaffarpur and its adjoining areas have been dying for decades?
Actually, state governments have neither the will to make best use of their available resources nor have money to draw the best talents to the hospitals, increase number of doctors and support staff or flush the hospitals with medicines, equipment and beds.
Yet, PHCs and government hospitals cannot be dispensed with. Private doctors who have insatiable greed for money are beyond the reach of poor patients and so are the private hospitals that run as business enterprises.
If NDA II can ensure 100 percent immunisation against AES and treat diseases that tend to quickly take an epidemic form as a national calamity, it will add sheen to its credibility as a government with social conscience.
Patients in Kolkata had an encounter of a different kind. An intern attending to a septuagenarian patient at NRS Medical College Hospital was assaulted by the diseased’s relatives on June 11.
The incident triggered a paralysis of healthcare services in West Bengal, with doctors submitting mass resignation and demanding protection.
Doctors across India joined the fray and refused to see patients to express solidarity with their striking brethren.
Good sense prevailed and the agitation was called off within seven days, after policemen were deployed in hospitals in Kolkata. The Union health minister also promised safety to doctors.
This incident raises several concerns.
Why do grieving relatives get violent and why only a few doctors suffer the wrath? Something is seriously amiss in their conduct, competence and communication skill with patients and relatives.
Are they justified in getting provoked and refusing to treat patients who are critically ill and come from far-off places? Should doctors in AIIMS have behaved like labour union leaders and street protesters?
Does their noble profession allow them to resort to brinkmanship? And finally, why do they need protection from patients who look on them as saviours of their lives? firstname.lastname@example.org