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Violence against doctors: Pandemic worsens the problem

Indian Doctor standing with stethoscope on India flag background. National healthcare system concept, medical theme. Image credit: Sezer özger / 123rf. violence against doctors concept.
Image credit: Sezer özger / 123rf

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in scenes of violence against doctors, as angered families take out their rage on the country’s beleaguered medicos. 

Prefacing a BBC News report is the story of Dr Seuj Kumar Senapati who bluntly expresses his fears that he would be killed. As the report summarises, Dr Senapati attended a patient and found them to be non-responsive. In the aftermath, “the patient’s family was furious when he told them the man had died. In moments, Dr Senapati recalled, all hell broke loose. He said they started hurling chairs around the room, breaking windows and abusing staff. 

“Dr Senapati ran for cover, but soon more people joined the family and they found him. A horrific video of the attack shows a group of mostly men kicking Dr Senapati and hitting him on the head with a bedpan – then they drag him outside and continue to beat him. Dr Senapati, bloodied and shirtless, can be heard howling in pain and fear. “I thought I wouldn’t survive,” he said.”

Violence against doctors and other healthcare professionals is, sadly, something the Indian medical fraternity is brutally familiar with. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has reported in the past that 75 percent of doctors in India have been the subject of violence, intimidation, and/or harassment whilst on duty.

Doctors now are taking a stand, protesting and striking to demand better conditions and better protections to alleviate pressures and deter prospective offenders. “We have found that existing laws are not effective and that is why they are not a deterrent. A strong law is urgently needed so people understand that there will be consequences for beating doctors,” said Dr Jayesh Lele, secretary-general of the IMA, quoted by the BBC News report. In the past, they have called on legislation against violence against the medical fraternity though politicking has stymied such attempts.

The aftermath of tragedy engenders strong emotional responses. There is, indeed, scope for compassion and the extent to which legislating the fierce reactions of the bereaved is worth debating. However, it is indisputable that medical professionals who, throughout an unprecedented pandemic in modern times, deserve nothing but respect. Improving relationships between professionals in the healthcare sector and those whom they serve is key. Accountability is too. 

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