4500 resident doctors all over Maharashtra, under the leadership of MARD (Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors) working in the State Government and Municipal Corporation hospitals, along with 3000 interns went on strike on July 7th 2009.
These doctors were protesting their miserable working and living conditions. Though they are students, in the name of internship and “residency’ they are forced to bear the brunt of the work of running the public hospitals in Maharashtra. However these doctors have no fixed duty hours, are on call 24 hours a day, are denied sick leave and other benefits and are paid a very poor salary for their labour. In addition the condition of the hostels in which they live are poor,with many doctors to a room. It is in these conditions that they are expected to complete their graduate and post graduate studies as well.
To hide the fact that it is the Governments anti people policies that are the cause of the problem, the State Government threatened the striking doctors with termination notices. At the same time the Government and the media blamed the doctors for causing hardship and suffering to the patients.
To counter this vicious propaganda against them, the striking doctors ran running parallel OPD’s outside the hospitals to treat the patients who were coming there and explained to the people their demands. Activists of Lok Raj Sangathan addressed the GBM of Resident Doctors in KEM Hospital on 10th of July and pledged their full support and promised to mobilize other sections of the working class in their support.
On the 11th of July, the resident doctors were served termination notices and asked to vacate their hostels.
On the 12th of July at a massive GBM at KEM Hospital, the Doctors vowed to continue their agitation till their demands were met. At this meeting also activists of Lok Raj Sangathan addressed the GBM and read out a resolution that was placed before the All India Council of Lok Raj Sangathan in New Delhi. Malan Sonawane from Ghar Kamgar Sangathan, a union of domestic workers, also addressed the gathering and expressed support. After this the whole body of resident doctors and interns took out a militant procession through the hospital premises and held an a Gate meeting, where the leaders of MARD, the representative of Lok Raj Sangathan and Malan Sonawane addressed the angry doctors.
On July 14th in the middle of pouring rains thousands of doctors from all over Maharashtra converged on Azad Maidan and determined to continue their agitation. Seeing the militant mood of the Doctors the State Government was forced to give in and on July 15 th announced that the salary of the doctors would be increased by 50%, with arrears from 2007-2008, Maternity and Sick Leave would be given, Library and Hostel facilities would be improved and also agreed to regularly increase the salary every 3 years.
Excerpts from the Lok Raj Sangathan statement supporting the struggle of the doctors.
Here are some Stark facts about the status of the Health sector in India
As a ratio of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), public expenditure on health in India is among the lowest in the world — aboutone per cent! The only countries with lower public health allocation are Georgia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Burundi, Sudan and Afghanistan – countries that have undergone civil conflict and collapse of the public sector.
Only 18 per cent of total health expenditure in India is public expenditure; the rest is private expenditure, such as over-the-counter drug purchases from chemist shops. By contrast, the ratio of public expenditure to total health expenditure is 40 per cent in east Asia, 50 per cent in Latin America, 75 per cent in Europe, and as high as 85 per cent in Britain. In large parts of India, there are no public health facilities worth the name, except for female sterilization and polio immunization
According to the National Family Health survey (1998-99), half of all Indian children are undernourished and half of all adult women suffer from anemia
At the time of the survey, 30 per cent of all children under the age of three had fever, another 20 per cent had diarrhea, and another 20 per cent had symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Even after allowing for some overlap between these different groups, this suggests that at least half of all Indian children below three suffer from one of these conditions at any given point of time.
Children under five years of age underweight for age: 46.7(%) in year 1998-99
Under-five mortality rate (per 1000 live births): 96
Infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births): 77
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births): 540
Births attended by skilled health personnel (%): 42.
The reason for the high infant and maternal mortality rates in India is due to the failure of primary care.
Fraud, over-medication and unnecessary surgery are the bread and butter of the private health sector. To illustrate, according to a recent study of health services in Mumbai, about 65 per cent of deliveries performed in the private sector end up with a Caesarean, compared with 9 per cent in the public sector (the latter is close to WHO norms).
India is home to the largest number of hungry people, 233 million, which is nearly one third of the world’s total. The majority of these are in the rural areas.
Conclusion: Successive governments have systematically ensured minimal Government support to Public Health Financing with the result that the vast majority of our people, the workers, the poor and marginal farmers, the landless agricultural labourers, the tribal peoples etc, do not have access to affordable and quality medical care. If the rulers were really interested in improving the conditions of the socially and economically downtrodden sections of our people then they would have to take steps to reverse the extremely negative indicators given above and to provide free and universal health care for all its people. For this they would have to allocate a significantly larger portion of the total expenditure on Public health Expenditure, increasing it up to 4-5% of GDP (as recommended by the United Nations) from the current abysmally low level of 1%.
This would ensure the creation of a modern Public Health system, with a quantum increase in number of public hospitals and primary health care centers all over India and a consequent quantum increase in the number of health workers the country requires. Simultaneously this would also allow for adequate compensation and decent living conditions for the health workers, the Doctors, nurses etc. This would also simultaneously necessitate a curtailment of the private sector and restrict the space to make profit out of the disease and sickness of human beings and especially the majority of the working and toiling people of our country.
Lok Raj Sanghathan supports the just struggle of the striking Doctors of Maharashtra and demands that the Government immediately settle their demands . It calls on the Government to fulfill its duty to provide affordable health care and also demands that the present trend towards decreasing allocation on public health be reversed.