513 doctors have died of Covid-19 in the second wave, so far, according to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a pan India organisation with 2.6 lakh doctors, which released the revised death toll on Tuesday night.
The highest number of deaths were from Delhi at 103 followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan at 96, 41, and 39.
Jayesh Lele, the Secretary General of the IMA, said that they had heard nothing from the Narendra Modi government about compensation for doctors who have died of Covid-19 in the second wave that started in March.
Lele said that many of the doctors who have died in the second wave worked in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or in critical care areas, and most of them had such a high viral load that they died in a matter of days.
“They are not getting enough isolation. They are not getting enough rest. They do not have proper PPE kits. They can transmit to their families,” said Lele. “The government is treating doctors very poorly.”
“A doctor has committed suicide because of the stress,” he said. “It is a very sad and tragic situation.”
Referring to yoga instructor Baba Ramdev’s remark about lakhs of people dying because of allopathic medicines rather than the lack of oxygen, and the government’s reaction to it, Lele said, “This is absolute rubbish. It really hurts the morale of the doctors who risk their own lives to treat patients. It is a reality that people in rural areas are already choosing to die at home instead of coming to hospitals. So why has he not got arrested for spreading rumours? Why has he not been booked under the Epidemics Act? Why is the government letting him go scot free?”
Following widespread outrage over Ramdev’s remarks, the Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was forced to ask the yoga instructor to withdraw them. Ramdev withdrew his remarks, but within hours, he took another dig at the country’s doctors, asking why modern medicine did not have a cure for diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
The fact that more doctors were dying in ICU and critical care areas in the second wave is different from last year, Lele said, when many of the 747 doctors who died were General Practitioners, some of them elderly, and were exposed to the virus while treating patients.
In March 2020, the Indian government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced that healthcare workers including doctors, who were fighting Covid-19, would qualify for insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Package.
In September, the Modi government told Parliament that it did not have the number of migrants who had died in the exodus brought on by its sudden and punishing lockdown in March, and it did not have the data on the healthcare workers, including doctors, who had died of Covid-19.
In response to a question on whether the Modi government had taken note of the IMA’s list of 734 deceased doctors, the Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Choubey in February 2021 told Parliament that 162 doctors, 107 nurses and 44 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA workers) had died due to the infection.
Following outrage of the closure of the insurance scheme in March this year, the Modi government in April extended it for another year.
In a revised list of doctors who died in the first wave, the IMA puts the figure at 747.
Lele said that the official figure was “shocking,” but the Modi government had decided that only doctors working with Covid-19 patients in Covid hospitals qualified for insurance cover excluding the vast majority of general practitioners, who were also exposed while treating patients. He added that 25 of the deceased doctors were under the age of 35 in the first wave.
Even in the second wave, JA Jayalal, national president of the IMA, said that given the rate of positivity had been 25%, there are doctors such gynaecologists, oncologists, and those posted in rural health clinics, who have been exposed to infected people while treating them for other ailments.
“The government is neglecting its responsibility of taking care of doctors who are taking care of people in a war-like situation,” said Jayalal. “Why have they handed compensation to the insurance sector? Why is the government not doing it?”
“In a war, if a soldier dies, do they go to the insurance sector, or should the government bring relief and compensation to the door of their family,” he said.
Lele, the secretary general of the IMA, said that it was unclear how many of the 162 doctors that the government had approved for insurance had actually received the money.
In addition to the Centre’s insurance scheme, some state governments have announced compensation for the families or deceased doctors. Tamil Nadu, for instance, announced Rs 25 lakh for the families of 43 doctors. While Bihar has announced Rs 4 lakh for the families of deceased doctors, earlier this month, the Bihar chapter of the IMA said that only 1 of the 120 deceased doctors had received the money.
Gathering more data
The IMA, Lele said, gathers the information about the deceased doctors through its 1,800 branches spanning across the country. While they receive basic information within hours, Lele said that it takes eight to ten days to speak with the grieving families of the doctors and get the details on each case.
To stop the government from disqualifying the families who deserve compensation, Lele said that IMA is now gathering very detailed information about the death of doctors, especially with regards to their exposure to the virus and whether they had received both doses of the vaccine before they died.
A questionnaire prepared by the IMA has questions like Vaccination Details 1, Vaccination Details 2, symptoms after vaccination, how long after the vaccination, did they use a PPE kit, did they use a N-95 mask, was the family quarantined, and did any family member or neighbors get infected because of the doctor.
“Governments, union and state, should officially maintain this data,” said Ravi Wankhedkar, former national president of the IMA and current treasurer of the World Medical Association. “They need to improve safety and make available free treatment. They need to give compensation to families of the deceased doctors in permanent and contractual positions in the public and private sectors.”
Lele, the secretary general of the IMA, said that the medical body had also raised funds to help families of deceased doctors, and had so far managed to give 10 lakh rupees to 14 families.
“So far, we don’t know what the government is planning and these families need some money,” he said.