Is India Fighting COVID-19 or Its Own Doctors?

The shabby treatment meted out to health care workers in India is becoming increasingly apparent.

4 min read
Is India Fighting COVID-19 or Its Own Doctors?

As India gallops to the number 4 position in the world as far as the number of COVID 19 cases is concerned and records over 12,000 deaths, the shabby treatment meted out to health care workers (HCW), especially the doctors, is becoming increasingly apparent. The situation has grown from bad to worse ever since the first case was reported from India on January 30, 2020.


The Problem of Inadequate PPEs

As the pandemic broke out in India, there was a dearth of PPE and consequently a huge gap between the supply and demand.
As the pandemic broke out in India, there was a dearth of PPE and consequently a huge gap between the supply and demand.
(Photo: iStock)

Protection in the form of donning personal protective equipment (PPE) is the least that is required to protect the so-called frontline warriors. As the pandemic broke out in India, there was a dearth of PPE and consequently a huge gap between the supply and demand. Despite the Supreme Court order of 8th of April, 2020 to ensure the supply of PPE to the HCW, the ground reality is that the demand far exceeded the supply until recently, exposing many to the deadly virus.

On one hand, the doctor is bound to see a patient, do a life-saving procedure or a surgery, but on the other, he may find himself getting infected if the PPE is not made available to him. Furthermore, unwittingly he may pass on this infection to other patients and may be sued by them, as has happened in some cases.

FIR’s have been lodged against doctors under the provisions of IPC for spreading an infectious disease either knowingly (Section 270) or unknowingly or negligently (Section 269). The former attracts imprisonment for 2 years. It is the governments’ or the hospital owner’s responsibility not only to provide PPE but also make boarding and lodging arrangements for the health care workers. It is a sad commentary on the apathy of the governments of the day that the doctors on more occasions than one needed to threaten to go on a pen-down strike just to ask for what their employers are obliged to provide legally, morally and ethically.

As if that was not enough, the Delhi government issued an order asking the doctors to explain how did they get infected despite the PPE provided to them, which in several cases was found to be substandard.

Healthcare workers, especially the doctors, have been falling like the proverbial nine pins to this disease in the line of their duty and the Central government informs the Supreme Court that it is the responsibility of the health care workers to adequately train themselves and take all possible measures for preventing the infection. They probably have completely forgotten that it is their responsibility to make sure that those ‘measures’ are made available to the HCW’s. Very obviously, they are blissfully unaware of the conditions of the government hospitals or do not want to admit it.

The Lack of Trust in Doctors

To rub more salt into the wounds of the doctors, the Delhi government comes out with a ludicrous order whereby the decision to admit a COVID-19 patient in a private hospital will be taken by a senior nursing officer from a Delhi government hospital. Is the government trying to say that they do not trust the judgment of the doctors as far as an indication of admitting the COVID patients is concerned; lo and behold, a nurse would sit on judgement for this.

Is it not a crying shame that the Supreme Court has to order the government to immediately disburse the long outstanding salary to the doctors after taking suo moto cognizance on media reports?

Alas, the healthcare workers cannot subsist on the flower petals showered on them from the helicopters. Now consider this – salaries of doctors in one of the government hospitals in Delhi have been deducted for the period of quarantine/isolation when the doctors get infected while on duty. Shabby treatment is meted out to HCW’s when they have to be isolated in the hospitals for their own treatment.

The Supreme Court also had to intervene and call out the Delhi government over its decision to suspend a doctor for exposing the situation inside a government hospital. “Stop harassing doctors and registering FIRs. You can’t suppress the truth. Why did you suspend a doctor who made a video of the pathetic conditions of one of your hospitals?”, the bench said.

A Nursing Superintendent in a Chennai hospital who worked through her retirement treating COVID 19 patients, and finally died of the same disease was declared as having died of comorbid conditions just to save on the promised Rs. 50,00,000 to the family.


What about the society which clapped and lit lamps to thank the COVID warriors - violence continues unabated against the so-called frontline warriors who take the bullets of the marauders on their chest. Healthcare workers gone to take the samples have been chased away.

Doctors have faced violence even in death; a decent and dignified burial was denied to a doctor in Chennai, forcing the government to bring in an ordinance amending the Epidemics Disease Act 1897.

Our profanity pelting political class has no qualms about demeaning and abusing the same doctors who eventually put their personal interests and those of their family behind to save the lives of these very people.

Things have come to a pass that medical professionals are regretting having chosen the profession and to stay in this country to serve. In a country where its real assets, its doctors, are demeaned, dishonoured and humiliated, the red flags for the future are there for everyone to see.

(Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. His endeavor is to help people lead a healthy life without medication. He can be reached at

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