Ramdev row: Not politics, we’re all about science, says IMA

It wasn't the first time that the largest association of physicians in the country had pulled its weight on an issue. Earlier, it had opposed the government's proposals to set up a National Medical Commission, as well as to allow Ayurvedic practitioners to perform surgeries.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had to publicly criticise yoga guru Ramdev’s remarks against allopathic medicine after the Indian Medical Assocation (IMA) with its 3.5 lakh members and 1,700 local units lodged complaints across the country.

It wasn’t the first time that the largest association of physicians in the country had pulled its weight on an issue. Earlier, it had opposed the government’s proposals to set up a National Medical Commission, as well as to allow Ayurvedic practitioners to perform surgeries.

Ramdev had called allopathy a “stupid” and “diwaliya (bankrupt)” science, claimed 10,000 doctors had died in spite of taking both doses of the vaccine, and that lakhs had been killed due to allopathic treatment for Covid-19.

Dr Jayesh Lele, Honorary Secretary General of the IMA, said while Vardhan’s rebuke showed the government was aware of its concerns, “we are awaiting the Prime Minister’s comments on this issue”.

Dr Arun Gadre, the founding member of the Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare, who has in the past differed with the IMA, said it was important not to have let Ramdev’s remarks pass, and that it was equally critical that the government not show the slightest sympathy towards “irrationality” and “pseudo-science” amidst the pandemic. “Evidence-based medicine is the need of the hour. It is a sad fact that on every count, the Centre has floundered on Covid management,” Dr Gadre said.

Prof Vikram Patel of the Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, said the Ramdev episode should be utilised by the government to clearly articulate its position on the importance of biomedical science. “One of the biggest challenges in this crisis is vaccine hesitancy, which is often fuelled by misinformation about motives and risks associated with vaccines,” Patel said. “The government must reassure people that it is in their best interests to get the jab and this means that they must not only openly disagree with comments made by self -styled holy persons who disparage medicine but loudly proclaim they are on the side of science,” he said.

IMA members also underlined that their stand should not be politicised. “The IMA represents the collective consciousness of lakhs of physicians working as frontline warriors in this pandemic. The members have never been against any party, we respect all of them. The reason the IMA objected to Ramdev’s statements was due to his anti-vaccination utterances,” said Dr Ravi Wankhedkar, a past president of the IMA.

He added that the IMA had opposed the UPA government’s move to introduce a short-term Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery course, forcing it to backtrack. “It is not a question of BJP or Congress governments. Our fight has always been against illogical and unscientific policies,” Wankhedkar said.

Current president Dr J A Jayalal, who has faced personal attacks in the last few days with allegations that he was promoting conversion to Christianity, says he is happy that the government has taken note of their position.

However, there is lingering discontent over what is seen as a less-than-deserving acknowledgement of their role in Covid. As per the IMA, 1,200 doctors have died due to the virus, with compensation paid only in about 200 cases till now.

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