A rise in attacks on doctors in India has resulted in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) providing martial arts lessons to doctors in a bid to aid in self defence.
The plan will provide taekwondo (a Korean martial art) lessons to over 1500 staff of the AIIMS Resident Doctors Association. As assaults on doctors are believed to be on the rise, and with little word of government protection at the hospital the doctors are taking matters into their own hands to defend themselves.
Dr Vijay Gurjar, president of the resident doctors’ association at the hospital, speaks up on the matter, “Prevention is better than the cure, and if the government is not providing adequate security, then you have to take measures to save your life or vital organs,”
The response from the AIIMS follows shortly after mass strikes were organised throughout March and April. These strikes were the result of consecutive attacks on doctors. In Maharashtra three attacks took place in as many days, the third of which was an assault on a postgraduate medical student.
The incident involving the medical student was a controversial event, as it revolved around the death of a patient who had previously released herself from hospital against the doctors’ advice. She would later return to the hospital with kidney failure, dying as a result. Reportedly between 15 and 20 members of her family began beating the medical student before being removed by security. Three were arrested.
This incident of mob violence in a hospital is by no means an isolated case. At Nashik general hospital, Mumbai, a mob of between 25 and 30 people became aggressive in response to the death of a man who was diagnosed with swine flu. The man was given a low chance of survival upon admission to the hospital, which was discussed with relatives. Despite this, upon his death, a large gathering of people assaulted three doctors and a nurse.
Incidents such as these have led to large scale walkouts and protests by doctors and hospital staff. These strikes have at times seen more than a thousand doctors leaving at a time, such as in strikes organised by the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors.
The effectiveness of these protests seems to have been negligible. As the martial arts lessons show, doctors still feel insecure. Violence against them is still on the rise.
The strikes have, however, drawn condemnation from both government and patients. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis responded to the strikes, stating enough was enough, with a comparison of “…what is the difference between the people who beat doctors and those who kill patients (by not attending to them)”.
Patients have attributed injuries and deaths to these strikes, which has not brought the doctors any sympathy from the public. One case that made media headlines was that of a 60 year old woman, who, following an accident, sought help from three different hospitals. None of the hospitals could provide adequate service due to the walkouts, resulting in her leg being amputated.
These kind of headlines are not likely to win over the support of the public in favour of the doctors, or to gather any sympathy to their cause. The issues caused by the strikes may well have made relations between doctors and patients worse, adding to the previous tensions.
A study by The Lancet has shown that over a 12 month period, 40 percent of doctors will be the target of violence at work. This situation is thought to be caused by the consistent understaffing and overcrowding of India’s hospitals, a situation made worse by government hospitals being severely underfunded.
Another factor to the violence targeting doctors, especially in private hospitals, may be the large degree of out of pocket expenditure. The huge costs of some procedures are well known to leave many facing poverty, for some this daunting concept is enough to make them act irrationally, as the immediate blame is placed on the doctors.
Violence continues to grow despite assurances from the government, claims Dr Vinod, general secretary of MAMC’s Resident Doctors’ Association. Strikes have done little to change the government’s opinion on the matter, though public relations may have been damaged as a result. For now, India’s doctors deem it necessary to learn to defend themselves against attack, as they believe the government is unwilling to defend them.