New Delhi: A group of 70 foreign doctors at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences working to combat COVID-19 alongside their Indian colleagues say they have been reduced to borrowing money because they have not been paid their salaries.
While AIIMS authorities maintain the doctors -- from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh -- are sponsored by their respective countries, the junior and senior resident medicos say banks back home are not operating because of the lockdown everywhere.
A senior AIIMS administrative official said the institute is under no obligation to pay the doctors.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 5, the AIIMS' Residents Doctors Association said amendments should be made in the rules so the foreign doctors are paid their salaries. The foreign doctors, irrespective of their nationality, are "working tirelessly and under similar stress," the letter said.
The AIIMS Resident Doctors Association, the umbrella body representing all resident doctors at the premier institution, also urged Modi to provide special financial benefits to the foreign doctors for their "selfless efforts" in treating people amid the coronavirus outbreak.
"There is urgent need to solve the payment issue of foreign doctors. They are serving our country in this hour of crisis. The concerned authorities must give them their dues," Adarsh Singh, president of the RDA, told PTI.
The foreign doctors said they are relying on money borrowed from their colleagues as banks are not operating in their respective countries due to the lockdown.
"We have been tirelessly working in critical conditions day and night like our Indian colleagues yet we are not receiving payments. We are unable to even ask for money from home due to the lockdown and hence have to borrow money from our Indian friends here," Sagar Poudel, a doctor from Nepal with the community medicine department of AIIMS, told PTI.
He said the authorities should at least release their stipends as they have been serving Indian patients under tremendous pressure despite their financial crises.
The foreign resident doctors said their Indian counterparts at AIIMS earn between Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh per month depending on the year they are in. But they don't get a single rupee from the hospital.
They also rue the fact that Modi's announcement of Rs 50 lakh insurance per person for frontline health workers who are treating coronavirus patents does not cover them as they are foreigners.
Ansarul Haq, another foreign doctor from Nepal at AIIMS, alleged the hospital is making a mockery of the system as it is defying the Delhi High Court order.
"While others who are rendering the same service as us are getting paid, we are being ignored. Don't we have families to feed? Are we not humans?" he asked PTI.
Every year, doctors from SAARC countries come to India to pursue medical courses followed by a residency in three institutes - AIIMS, Delhi, the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research (JIPMER), Pondicherry.
In 2013, the Delhi High Court directed AIIMS to start paying its foreign doctors on par with Indian doctors. The prime minister and the Ministry of External Affairs in 2018 also directed the institute to make necessary amendments and release the due salary of the foreign doctors.
While PGIMER and JIPMER have been paying their foreign doctors, AIIMS has not because it places the doctors from abroad in the same category as sponsored students from India, an official explained.
The Health Ministry also allows foreign resident doctors to draw stipends on par with their Indian counterparts, but prohibits sponsored students from doing so. However, the AIIMS administration has not initiated the procedure yet.
According to an AIIMS official, all sponsored students, including those from the Army, Navy, Air Force and state governments, are being paid by the sponsoring authority.
"They do not compete on open seats but on reserved seats with hardly any competition and are aware when they apply that their government is supposed to pay them. They can also appear in open competition as others, qualify and get paid," he told PTI.
Another senior administrative officer, who did not wish to be named, said the matter was "technical" in nature and would be sorted in "due course of time.