National Doctors’ Day on July 1 is a reminder for urgent need to work towards an equitable healthcare system
Even as we salute the sacrifices of over 1500 doctors during COVID, we must take a pledge to work for a better equitable healthcare system and show empathy for the downtrodden and deprived
On the National Doctors’ Day on July 1, it would be appropriate to pay homage to those who have sacrificed their lives to serve mankind from the catastrophic damage of COVID-19. In addition to taking care of the sick in the hospitals, risking their lives, the health professionals continued to be engaged in research work on the SARS COV-2 virus which has been mutating very fast and producing new variants of concern.
Such work for the doctors is not new, it has centuries’ old history. Several new treatment methodologies were developed by the doctors risking their own and the lives of their near and dear ones. Many times, they had to face the wrath of those who had a vested interest in continuing the old outdated and unscientific non-evidence based system. But this did not deter medical professionals from spreading the knowledge of science.
Keen observations many a times led to new discoveries that helped us control us diseases which were deadly at one time. Dr Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine after he observed that milkmaids who previously had caught cowpox did not catch smallpox and showed that inoculated vaccinia protected against inoculated variola virus.
Similarly, penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming after he found that a mould which had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate prevented the growth of staphylococci bacteria.
Rene Laënnec was a French physician who, in 1816, invented the stethoscope. With this instrument, he investigated the sounds made by the heart and lungs and determined that his diagnoses were supported by the observations made during autopsies.
We owe a lot to such discoveries and inventions which revolutionized medical treatment and laid stepping stones for the advancement of medical science.
Many doctors risked their lives beyond the borders of their countries even during conflict situations and war times. Dr Dwarka Nath Kotnis from Solapur district of Maharashtra readily agreed to be part of a medical team along with four other doctors – Nagpur’s M Cholkar, Calcutta’s BK Basu and Debesh Mukherjee and Allahabad’s M Atal – on the appeal of Jawaharlal Nehru who was requested by the Chinese fighting Japanese invaders to send doctors to save the lives of the soldiers.
He breathed his last in China, after having lived the last five years of his life serving Chinese soldiers and winning the hearts of millions in the country at the age of 32 in 1942.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), founded on 22 December 1971, is an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation of French origin best known for its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. MSF has undertaken medical work in conflict situations in Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen etc.
Physicians have been advocating for eliminating inequities in health. Dr Rudolf Virchow was a 19th-century German physician, considered by many as the father of pathology, who raised concern for the disempowered. He said, “If medicine is to fulfil her great task, then she must enter the political and social life.” Virchow then outlined a revolutionary social reconstruction program to address the economic, social and cultural factors contributing to the epidemic.
A proponent of the concept that 'medicine is a social science', he believed that physicians are responsible for working on behalf of the poor. He later helped develop policies leading to public health reforms.
Albert Schweitzer, a German physician, dedicated a large part of his life in service of suffering people in Africa. He advocated the necessity for lasting world peace and denounced nuclear weapons. He was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
Doctors under the banner of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) are today in the forefront for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and have time and again highlighted the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. They have affirmed that the medical profession has no remedy to offer in the event of a nuclear fallout. It was through their initiative that International Campaign to Abolition Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was formed. ICAN has to its credit efforts that led to passage of Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) declaring nuclear weapons illegal.
The world is inspired by the work of Henry Dunant, a humanist who considered service to humanity as prime duty, who founded Red Cross in 1863.
In India we have the powerful history of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji who did not care to distinguish between the soldiers of either army during the war times and offered water to both.
The sacrifices of over 1500 doctors of India during the ongoing pandemic should not be allowed to go in vain. Even as we salute them, we must take a pledge to work for a better equitable healthcare system and show empathy for the downtrodden and deprived, whether in factories, in fields or the farmers struggling for their rights.
Doctors have to take the responsibility of mobilising public opinion for a health care system which is affordable and reachable. Young doctors must come forward for this. The pandemic has shown the necessity for developing a healthcare system which caters to health care needs of all citizens.
(Views are personal)