Ministry of health and family welfare has got its priorities seriously wrong. Its bid to plug the gaping holes in our healthcare services and the monstrous shortages of qualified doctors in the country by ‘accommodating and rehabilitating’ quacks is a disastrous step, which must be stopped at all costs. The ministry has called a meeting of the health secretaries and the union health minister Harsh Vardhan (whose erstwhile fiascos include saying in public condoms and sex education in school aren’t important) has added one more gaffe in his museum of faux pas. Naturally, the staggering problem of not having enough doctors – India has a dismal record of having one doctor for every 1,700 people; it’s much, much worse in the rural regions – cannot be solved by stipulating underqualified and frankly non-medical practitioners to do the job. Considering that villages in India are populated with quacks and half-wit autodidacts who pass themselves off as doctors, or practitioners of alternative therapies (like homeopathy, naturopathy, etc), installing their services as ‘healthcare workers’ would be certainly important to tackle the issue. But surely they need supervision by trained doctors of medicine with proper degrees from recognised colleges to make any impact, a reasonable doubt voiced by Indian Medical Association.
Hence, the health ministry’s baffling move to consider giving degrees in Ayurveda, Unani or Siddha the same status as one in medicine is a travesty too unbecoming of a union health ministry. How can a person with no knowledge of prescription drugs be allowed to recommend them? It shows that the current minister, a traind doctor himself, is perhaps out of his league or is completely out of sync with what is really required. While rehabilitation of such practitioners of alternative healthcare systems is an impressive thought and a noble intention indeed, it cannot be a substitute for actually developing the medical infrastructure in the country. Even though the promises to build more AIIMS were made back in Vajpayee’s times, that dream lies in terrible neglect. Moreover, what about making rural health service compulsory for medical students, or making medical social responsibility as an integral part of any doctor’s resume? We need to rebuild the Indian Health Service which probably exists only on papers. Modifying laws to fill in the blank is a shortcut that will only hurtle India’s massive and ramshackle health sector into an abyss of no return.