The good doctors

The pandemic has seen the triumph of science and service. The medical community exemplifies the best of that spirit

The hard blow of the pandemic has fallen on all, but few have wrestled as closely and as relentlessly with the deadly pathogen as doctors across the world. In India’s overwhelmed hospitals and wards, doctors, nurses and health-workers have turned up every day, double-masked, sleep-deprived and almost burnt out, to save lives and outfox a canny virus. They have watched scenes of helplessness and mortality unprecedented in memory, as cities ran out of oxygen and life-saving drugs. They have also been witness to the intimate, lonely grief of those in Covid-19 isolation wards, to whom they provided a rare human connection. They have stoically stood in for near and dear ones in the last moments of many patients. Despite their daily encounters with death, they have even scrubbed up for fun — as they danced in PPE suits and hospital uniforms in videos that warmed the hearts. If the pandemic has sometimes brought out the worst of human prejudice and systemic inequalities, it has also seen the triumph of science and the spirit of service. In the last year and more, the medical community has exemplified the best of that spirit. That explains the spontaneous standing ovation for NHS workers at Wimbledon recently; and the many tributes, including from PM Narendra Modi, on National Doctors’ Day, observed in India on Thursday.

Through this all, the cost that the medical community has had to pay must not go uncounted. According to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), over 1,500 doctors have died of Covid-19, of which 800 lives were lost in the second wave. The toll on doctors’ mental health after a year of serving in high-stress environments is bound to be alarming. While doctors do sit on top of the hierarchy of healthcare workers, the chronic underfunding of the health sector in India has also affected them. It makes them vulnerable to violence and rage of patients’ families; several of them have had to go on strike to demand timely payment of salaries. Despite the lessons of the pandemic, hospitals continue to hire health workers on temporary contracts and for a pittance.

The state’s many failures have been laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it would be safe to say that those failures would have added up to a much greater human toll were it not for the sacrifice and work of healthcare workers. To honour their service would not only mean a substantial pledge of national resources to health, but also a disavowal of misinformation and a renewed commitment to science.

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