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India
21 Jul 2017

An overburdened profession: In India, one doctor for 1,613 people

India's overburdened lifesavers at risk

India has a doctor-patient ratio of 0.62:1000, meaning there's one doctor serving almost 1,613 people, the government told the Lok Sabha.

"Assuming 80% availability, it is estimated that around 8.18 lakh doctors (are) available for active service (in the country)," said MoS Health Anupriya Patel.

WHO recommends a ratio of 1:1,000.

This only goes to show how doctors in India are overburdened and suffering.

In context

India's overburdened lifesavers at risk
Over 50% doctors suffer from uncontrolled hypertension

Health

Over 50% doctors suffer from uncontrolled hypertension

According to a study, one in three Indian adults suffers from hypertension. It is as prevalent in the medical fraternity.

56% of doctors suffer from irregular BP and 21% from masked hypertension, which is linked to cardiovascular morbidity in the long term.

Over 50% suffered from uncontrolled hypertension despite hypertensive medicines.

The study surveyed 533 doctors and took about 20,000 readings.

Burden

36-hour shifts, skewed doctor-patient ratio and more

Health issues aren't surprising, considering the medical sector is largely understaffed. As of July'15, there was one doctor for 420 patients in Delhi.

Pulling 36-hour shifts and then reporting again after a 12-hour gap is normal for doctors. So are 500-600 cathetrisations and cannula tweaks in just 24 hours.

If this is the capital's situation, it's hard to imagine how bad it is elsewhere.

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On top of that, meagre salaries

Money

On top of that, meagre salaries

And whoever said doctors earn handsomely? A young employee at a private hospital in Mumbai earns about Rs. 50,000 a month: barely enough to buy two nights at the same hospital.

Another doctor talked of his six-year experience in rural service. When the man in his 30s finally left, he had Rs. 15,000 left in his bank account, without having made any extravagant expenses.

Violence

Patients find it okay to assault doctors for unsuccessful treatment

On top of that, patients consider successful treatment their birthright. In March, Sion Hospital doctor Rohit Tated was assaulted by relatives of a deceased patient. Polio-afflicted Tated walks with a caliper.

The same month, a doctor was assaulted in Dhule district after he referred a patient to another hospital as the Dhule Civil Hospital didn't have a neurosurgeon.

He might lose his vision.

In fact, over 75% of Indian doctors faced violence

Assaults

In fact, over 75% of Indian doctors faced violence

Apart from these incidents, there were at least two other attacks on medical professionals in Maharashtra in the same month.

Three employees of the Nashik Civil Hospital were assaulted after a patient died, and a resident at Aurangabad Medical College was thrashed by a patient's kin.

In May 2015, the Indian Medical Association confirmed over 75% doctors had faced some form of patient-related violence.

Sensitivity

And even the minutest complaint can damage decades of reputation

Things become even harder when doctors are treated as "God". When Aamir Khan accused nephrologist R Sreedhara of "medical negligence" on Satyamev Jayate in 2012, the allegations tarnished his reputation.

Sreedhara later said he was the one being harassed by the deceased's family, who accused him of medical malpractices.

Till then, he had already spent two years in legal fights to clear his name.

All doctors aren't infallible, but they don't owe their lives

Conclusion

All doctors aren't infallible, but they don't owe their lives

It's not to say all doctors are infallible. Many are corrupt. Many charge extra to repay the heavy loans they took for studies. Many in private hospitals are under corporate pressure. All this is condemnable.

However, 'selfless service' doesn't mean doctors give up their souls and lives either.

Hippocrates put it very well: "The life so short, the craft so long to learn."

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