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A Doctor Who Dies Fighting on the COVID Frontline is a Martyr, Not Just Another Statistic

Representational mage (Pic: Reuters)

Representational mage (Pic: Reuters)

Just as a soldier goes to war willingly for the nation, a doctor does so for their patients.

1076 as on May 19, 2021. This is the number of Indian doctors who have sacrificed their lives so far in the fight against COVID-19. This is not just a statistic; these are actual human lives lost and families torn apart. Just as a soldier who loses his life fighting comes home as a martyr, one would expect the same for these medical heroes. On the contrary, the supreme sacrifices made by our doctors are not even counted, let alone acknowledged.

Doctors who lose their lives fighting on the frontline of this pandemic have not even been given the courtesy of being a statistic. It is a personal effort on behalf of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has counted the number of doctors lost.

The worst hit are general practitioners or GPs, our first line of defence. All across the country, family doctors take the first call of the pandemic-struck patients— paying the price for their neighbourhood accessibility.

The first week of infection, dubbed “The Golden Week”, is invaluable for rapid diagnosis. It is also the period where the virus is the most infectious. Due to the continual exposure to patients, adamantly in denial of their symptoms, the fatality rate among doctors is higher, probably due to the high viral load they carry.

Several doctors—young and old—have lost their battle against COVID. Long working hours without breaks, continuous exposure to the virus, the risk of carrying the infection home to their families, lack of adequate PPEs and facilities, irregular pay scales, inability to pay for their own medical treatments and, above all, the emotional turmoil of facing and fighting death every day are just some of the heart-breaking difficulties faced by the doctors.

Despite that, they fight for their patients till their last breath, leaving behind their families in a lurch. The gross under-reporting of the deaths in the doctor community is a matter of great national grief and shame. The minimal compensation offered to government doctors gets buried in the cumbersome insurance formalities, whereas private doctors receive none.

Now more than ever, doctors and hospitals have faced violence, stigma and reproach, and have even been denied dignity in death.

Doctors today fight death every day for their patients, which takes a physical and mental toll on their health. Despite the limitations posed by the under-funded healthcare system, our doctors have served the nation above and beyond their call of duty.

As a nation, we need to improve upon the shabby treatment meted out to our doctors. Just as a soldier goes to war willingly for the nation, a doctor does so for their patients.

The soldier comes home draped in the tricolour, a “martyr”
The doctor returns unacknowledged
Silence prevailing
Both fight for their nation
And yet are awarded two starkly different stations?

I strongly believe that any doctor who has succumbed to the pandemic in the line of duty deserves the status of a national martyr. Their families should be eligible for state assistance and be well looked after.

The author is former national president of Indian Medical Association (IMA). Views expressed are personal.

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first published:May 22, 2021, 12:03 IST