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Of Quacks and Healers.

India, Jan. 1 -- With every death in a hospital or nursing home inviting the sort of skepticism that warrants enquiries and a thorough probe into, the most dignified and gracious profession in the world has come under public scrutiny raising a big question mark over the professional integrity of physicians and surgeons.

If at moments of dignified glory doctors can be gods and saviours at the same time as the only hope for the sick and the ailing, in the very next hour of despair, being painted as the devil's incarnate for their improper conduct, these very messiahs are slapped with malpractice lawsuits that could only be described as blights on their blemishless careers.

One may be pardoned for fostering a belief that the medical fraternity has brought upon itself this discomfiture and is squarely to blame for the irregularities and inconsistencies that have crept into the line of work due to a blatant commercialization of their profession. A 'syndicate' of medical professionals coming together to harness the resources available and dictating terms to the patient is not unheard of in this country. The system of 'referrals' ensures that the chain remains intact and everyone involved is assured of a decent 'cut' from the 'proceedings'.

Nevertheless a recent newspaper expose on illegal pathology labs in Goa should shake an administration out of reverie, smug under the impression that everything is hunky-dory vis-a-vis healthcare services in the State.

Considering that pathological tests constitute an essential part of any medical diagnosis, one can't be complacent enough to entrust quacks and unqualified individuals the task of deciphering anomalies that portend a disease. However, with blood and urine tests becoming a prerequisite for employment and other career opportunities in the modern world, the needless weightage given on processing the samples rather than the interpretation of the results has resulted in a proliferation of units managed by lab-technicians.

Moreover, the active support extended by reputed medical practitioners to such dubious institutions cannot be overlooked either. Furthermore, the indifference shown by the State Directorate of Health Services to complaints galore on this matter is incomprehensible.

However, such illegal medical practices are rampant in other states in the country too and under the very nose of the authorities as well. It has, and will, always be a perennial problem requiring more of action than mere rhetoric to address. More than anything else, public participation will contribute with might towards closure of such unlawful premises. For the moment though, the Goa Medical Council is left with the onus task of cleaning up the healthcare sector in the state.

Law enforcement agencies in the country have been kept on their toes busting rackets involving the issuing of fake degrees and spurious medicines. Forget medical and pharmacy colleges, people who have not even completed their matriculation touting themselves as medical experts specializing in the treatment of various diseases have been taking advantage of the poor and illiterate in our country.

Though quacks are a curse in the medical field; when it comes to cures and succor, quacks have been the way of life, especially so in the rural belts where the apathy shown by the medical fraternity to serve in remote hamlets and villages have painted a very dismal picture of the health services in the country.

There have been instances where compounders have doubled up as doctors in villages resulting in disasters and fatalities. In spite of stories of fly-by-night operators who claim cure for terminal diseases duping the gullible being aplenty, the propensity shown by the general public to approach these quacks with their health problems is all the more perplexing.

In modern times the concept of a nursing home as the primary link in a continual chain of medical care is being slowly replaced by the perception of medical institutes which could cater to the health care requirements of patients all under one-roof. Hence a sudden proliferation of hospitals that affords patients modern medical facilities!

If I may be allowed to quote: "The shift of hospital industry for 'welfare orientation' to 'business orientation' was marked by the advent of corporate hospitals, supported by various policy level initiatives made by the government. Over the past few decades, Indian Healthcare has witnessed a growth in the number of corporate and private hospitals providing specialized and tertiary level of medical care." (Source: Private Sector in Indian Healthcare Delivery: Consumer Perspective and Government Policies to Promote Private Sector. A Research paper by Utkarsh shah and Ragini Mohanty, Prin. L N Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Mumbai)

The news that the Delhi government has decided to penalize health care establishments that have failed to abide by the Supreme Court directive that private hospitals in the National Capital must provide free treatment to poor patients in lieu of the concessions granted highlights its social consciousness. It could well be heralded as a welcome move if similar orders are extended to the other state governments.

With a few practitioners of the medical profession not beyond equating their noble vocation as a viable business proposition, it is high time they are made aware of their moral obligations towards the society.

Moreover, considering the thrust given to medical tourism in the country today, it would not be wrong to categorize institutions extending specialized medical care as an industry by themselves. Hence it would not be wrong to expect some level of corporate social responsibility from them in line with the policies practiced by various business houses and industrial establishments vis-a-vis their active compliance with the spirit of law and ethical standards prescribed while conducting their business activities.

Corporate Social Responsibility has been defined by the World Business Council as "the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large." Thus the corporate social responsibility seeks to describe the conscientiousness of a business organization towards the environment and society in which it operates.

As institutes affording health care to the public, the least the managements of various private hospitals in the country could do is to provide free medical treatment to those patients belonging to the economically weaker section of society.

One would be surprised to know that India's poor rely mainly on private health care than on public health care. Hence the contention that there are general hospitals for the poor would sound to be a very hollow statement on the crumbling and over-burdened government-run health system in the country, which makes the underprivileged and affluent alike to turn to the multi-specialty hospitals.

But what does one do when even these very institutes of medical-care turn into virtual death traps for patients as was the case in the AMRI Hospital in Kolkata where a raging inferno choked patients and a few employees into lifeless heaps? A ghastly tragedy indeed, but one that could have been avoided, if not for the affinity shown by these mega-healthcare centers to overlook safety concerns and sacrificing lives at the altar of avarice.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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