It doesn’t behove medical practitioners to let politics override scientific temper

The use of cow urine and dung to treat COVID-19 was opposed by several medical organisations, but they kept mum or joined the chorus to ‘chase away’ the virus by clanging utensils at PM Modi’s call

Representative (DW Photo)
Representative (DW Photo)
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Dr Arun Mitra

The World Medical Association’s Second General Assembly adopted what came to be known as the Declaration of Geneva in September 1948 with a view to uphold the dignity of medicine and ensure commitment to the healthcare of the people. The declaration highlights a physician's dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine, which was especially relevant in view of the ‘medical crimes’ which had just been committed in German-occupied Europe.

As per this declaration, the doctor commits and declares: ‘I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life to the service of humanity; I will maintain the utmost respect for human life; I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient’.

The medical professionals have to identify with the society and social concerns at every step. Dr. Rudolf Virchow, considered to be the father of pathology, stressed that “If medicine is to fulfill her great task, then she must enter the political and social life”.

He believed in the concept that 'medicine is a social science', and that physicians must work on behalf of the poor. This means the physician must be sensitive to various issues of the society.

Besides the study of normal structure and working of the human body, that is anatomy and physiology, in medicine doctors have to learn the factors for causation of disease and the abnormality produced in the structure and functioning of the body. It is only after this elaborate study that one learns the art of treating someone.

However, prevention of disease forms the core of the curriculum throughout. Therefore, in medicine, one has to learn about the social determinants of health which include economic stability, employment, housing, poverty, food security, education, neighbourhood environment, healthcare access etc. Basic needs like clean air, clean drinking water, adequate sewerage facilities are essential to promote good health.

A physician must engage on these issues if the Declaration of Geneva is to be put into practice ideally.

It is to the credit of medical profession that it raised a voice against female foeticide and informed the public about the harmful effects of smoking and alcohol. Several doctors risk their lives by going deep into the areas of conflict to serve the sick and the infirm. Many doctors have also rendered yeoman’s services in natural and manmade calamities.

While treating patients, the doctors learn that peace and stability are most important for the good health of the people. Violence prevention has become a public health issue. Scientifically outlined steps for its prevention have been in existence since health is the biggest calamity during such situation.

A body called the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) has conducted scientific studies on the climatic consequences of nuclear war and vociferously called for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. This was instrumental in passing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Unfortunately, peace and stability are today under threat in large parts of the world today. There are forces globally which are out to create external and internal conflicts with the intention to make huge profits by selling arms. There are forces that are out to create communal and caste conflicts for political gains. Doctors can play an effective role in such a situation.

It is therefore important for them to shed pre-conceived ideas and biases based on gender, caste, religion and other prejudices which have been made prevalent in the society by vested interests. It is understandable that many a times the doctors have to work in situations under pressure and threat, particularly during conflicts, strife and social unrest. But they must brave through these situations.


In India, the profession is facing a precarious situation. Obsolete ideas and myths are being spread by certain forces for narrow political gains. These have to be opposed. It is important for a physician to strengthen scientific temper in the society. For example, the use of cow urine and cow dung in ‘treating’ COVID-19 was opposed by several medical organisations. But it is also unfortunate that the same organisations kept mum or joined the chorus to ‘chase away’ the virus by banging thalis, clapping and lighting diyas. This is something totally unexpected of a doctor.


Not many medical organisations or personnel came forward to side with Dr Kafeel Khan who was falsely implicated for raising the issue of flaws in oxygen supply at the government hospital in Gorakhpur. Neither did they come out in open to oppose communal violence in Delhi and other places.

It is not clear if this was due to fear or political beliefs, but what is certain is that keeping mum amounts to giving strength to communal and divisive ideas. One has to be bold, shed fear and speak the truth to power.

It is true that in the present commercialised atmosphere, doctors have become part of the whole game. It is imperative that they stick to the Declaration of Geneva to fend off the kind of blot which stained the noble profession during the Nazi regime in the present conditions.

(IPA Service)

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