IN March, PM Modi, in a televised address to the nation, asked people to clang utensils in a show of appreciation for the frontline healthcare workers who had risked their lives in protecting people from the coronavirus. Nine months down the line, the same medical fraternity is up in arms against the government over its move to allow post-graduate ayurvedic students to conduct surgeries. Allopathic practitioners have dubbed it an assault on the modern medicine system, a decision that would encourage quackery and endanger the lives of the people. The IMA called for a nationwide strike on Friday to register protest, putting out ads that said it had lost 700 doctors to Covid.
The pandemic put pressure on a healthcare system that was underprepared to deal with the exigency. Hospitals saw a shortage of beds and equipment with doctors from the paramilitary forces being drafted in some instances. There was pressure on the supporting staff who had to perform long hours of duty in PPE kits. Care for those suffering from other diseases was hit, leading to aggravation. While revamping the healthcare infrastructure, the government also had to guard against its dumbing down, like in the case of the Patanjali drug that was later clarified to be only an immunity booster, with the ICMR distancing itself from it. The country has had parallel systems of medicine since ancient times, but anatomical dissection and the application of scientific evidence-based practices differentiate the modern system of medicine from alternative practices.
There is also a race against time to find a vaccine for Covid-19. The government would do best to rely on the already existing robust vaccination programme, sparing other branches the trouble of getting involved in the exercise. The network of clinics and dispensaries that had shut after the pandemic outbreak should be allowed to reopen, fresh recruitments made and the families of those who lost their lives should be compensated. Training ayurvedic students for surgery appears to be an ill-conceived step.