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No compromise on healthcare

The latest controversy to hit the city of Delhi is the strike by resident doctors. Health services in the city were severely hit as around 20,000 resident doctors of the city went on strike on Monday, raising various issues like lack of security, life-saving drugs in hospitals, sanitation, and seats in hospitals. The strike was not only limited to the hospitals of Delhi government but also affected hospitals under the Central Government like Safdargunj Hospital and RML Hospital and prominent MCD hospitals like Hindu Rao Hospital. 

That India’s public health-care system is an under-performing white elephant is a universally known fact. In November 2014, 15 women died after undergoing botched sterilisation operations performed in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. In addition to those dead, seventy women were hospitalised in critical condition and twenty of them were put on mechanical ventilation. Given the abysmal state of affairs what does one make of India’s perennially under-performing, resource crunched public health system which is forever groaning under the weight of an exploding population beset with increasing healthcare needs in a deteriorating environment?

India’s healthcare system has often been accused by healthcare experts of doing the big things well while ignoring the smaller things egregiously. India’s public healthcare sector has managed to eradicate polio but at the same time has not been able to adopt the essential practise of washing hands in hospital settings. Given the complex nature of India’s healthcare system it safe to say that there are no easy answers. With Indians living longer, their health care needs have become wider. A health system designed primarily for infectious diseases was finding it difficult to cope with a new and more complicated swathe of lifestyle-related illnesses - from high blood pressure to diabetes. The death of 15 women at two state-run sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh is a painful reminder of how India is not getting its essential public health care checklist in order - poor hygiene and contaminated drugs have been the bane of India’s healthcare system for long. 

It is in this stark light and complex context that the strike of the resident doctors in the city must be seen. These resident doctors went on strike demanding improved supplies and security. Patients were turned away from OPDs in nearly all big hospitals and elective surgeries were put off, with only basic emergencies being run by senior doctors. A few days into the strike the Delhi government was quick to react. The Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi party government on Tuesday imposed Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) Act on striking doctors as they failed to resume work by the time ordered by the government. The Essential Services Maintenance ESMA) is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain services, which if obstructed would affect the normal life of the people. This include services like public transport (bus services), health services (doctors and hospitals).

While the doctors demands for essential life-saving drugs and timely payment of salaries is a just and reasonable one, at the same time, it is the poor and those direly in need of healthcare who will suffer as a result. Moreover, giving into the demands of the doctors would have imposed a bad precedent, especially a week after <g data-gr-id="36">safai</g> <g data-gr-id="37">karamcharis</g> across East and West Delhi went on strike leaving piles of stinking garbage on the streets. Public services are an essential lifeline in a city as chaotic as Delhi and public services <g data-gr-id="30">can’t be held at gunpoint no</g> matter how bad the situation <g data-gr-id="38">maybe</g>.
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