The bridge course allowing alternative and traditional medicine practitioners to fill the role of allopathic physicians was widely criticised when it was first announced last year as a means of plugging the nation’s doctor shortages. Maharashtra, however, continues to embrace it.
The first group of Ayurvedic practitioners assumed positions in government-run health and wellness centres (HWCs) in the state earlier this year. Approximately 1,000 individuals completed the six-month bridge course designed by the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and were subsequently recruited at HWCs to act in the position mid-level health providers.
New applications are being invited for more alternative medicine practitioners to enroll in the bridge course, as Maharashtra seeks to fill 5,716 community health officer positions at HWCs over the next two years. This includes 319 officers in the Nagpur district; 403 in the Yavatmal district; and 455 in the Amravati district.
The concept of the bridge course allowing practitioners of Ayurveda, yoga unani, naturopathy, siddha, and homoeopathy (collectively known as AYUSH) was first announced by the Union Health Ministry last year as part of the National Medical Commission Bill. It immediately earned the derision of doctors, who feared the bridge course would enable a new generation of quacks. It also earned skepticism from AYUSH practitioners, although some welcomed the move.
The opposition led to the proposal being taken off the table and the Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet without it. State governments, however, were still able to continue with the bridge course if they wanted to – and Maharashtra embraced it, already having provisions in place to train AYUSH practitioners in allopathy. Its continued push to fill vacant medical posts utilising the bridge course mechanism – despite resistance from allopathic doctors – makes it seem like it will be a matter of course for the foreseeable future.
Addressing the shortage of doctors in India is an onerous task, given that there is just one physician for every 11,082 people. As such, unorthodox measures such as the bridge course have been frequently proposed. While some can debate the wisdom of the move, it is nonetheless important to recognise that the bridge course was not proposed in a vacuum. Until India begins to raise its healthcare workforce, measures like the bridge course will seem to some authorities like their only recourse.