How Noble is the Noble Profession

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The sudden development at the premier Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, RIMS, in which former director, Dr. S Sekharjit, was dismissed rather unceremoniously, and interestingly by the Union government, would have come as a shock to all except perhaps RIMS administration’s insiders who were all along aware of the politics in the institute’s administration. The reason cited for the abrupt ouster is the charge of financial embezzlement levelled at the director in a Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI, enquiry report. According to accounts made available to the press, the CBI is now preparing a formal charge sheet against the former director. The latter tried to move the High Court to stay his dismissal, but the petition was turned down. The matter however is unlikely to end here, and a long and tedious legal battle can be expected to follow. But in the evening of his career, even in the unlikely event of a legal triumph at the end of possibly years or even decades, the victory would most likely be at the best, pyrrhic. Judging by the rate of case closures of Indian courts, for all you know, the case may even remain shelved without a verdict. The case of Oinam Village against the Assam Rifles, in the aftermath of Operation Bluebird of 1989, is just one example. We do hope we are wrong and the case gets to see a conclusion soon. Be it what it may, but we do wonder what somebody known as a brilliantly talented doctor, with a shining academic record, would at this stage in his life have even allowed himself to be in a position to end up with charges of financial embezzlement.

The last obviously has not been heard of the case as yet, and we have no intention of pre-empting the progress of the matter, or question the integrity of anybody implicated in the case any more than what is already known to the public from what the CBI has revealed so far. The rest, as they say, is now the job of the court to decide. But leaving aside the personal drama of alleged greed and avarice, the matter is certainly of vital public interest. Indeed, public health in recent times has been a subject which has commanded great interest, and also been one of the economic sectors which has seen spectacular growth. The number of extremely successful private health facilities, starting from small time dental clinics to full fledged multi specialised hospitals, which have sprouted and blossomed in the past few decades is evidence. The truth is, it would not be wrong to say this revolution in the health sector began about four and a half decades ago with the setting up of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, RIMS, originally known as Regional Medical College, RMC, before it was later, and much deservedly, upgraded to its present status.

But the health sector story, of which RIMS is only an important part, is hardly one of optimism and success alone. It has had its own liberal shares of shame and disgrace, as the current controversy itself is a pointer. Both in the larger question of health sector administration of the state, as well as individual integrity and practice of health professional, there have often been big question marks. In the larger administration, it is well known how once corruption ruled, and even the selection of candidates for pursuit of the medical profession was determined by bribe value alone. In one year, there was a huge controversy over entrance examination answer sheets discovered in a tea stall being used as wrappers even before the examination results were declared. But it is a highly competitive profession of increasing specialisation, and those who made in the past into prestigious medical colleges in the country through the back doors opened up with bribes by their resourceful parents, often ended up discovering it was even more difficult to get out of them successfully. But thanks to intense public scrutiny, and to a good extent, vigil by many underground organisations those days, threatening severe personal consequences, things have improved substantially at least in the selection of candidates for the government’s official seats. Of course, resourceful parents still pay astronomical capitation fees to have their children in good private medical colleges in the hope of a guarantee of successful careers for their wards, but this does not affect the government’s quota open only to the most meritorious, so it is up to them to decide where best they can invest their money.

But controversy in the health sector is also at so many other levels. Every so often, the state witnesses kins of patients who succumb, declaring war against doctors whose alleged neglect they claim were the causes of the deaths of their wards. Sure, all patients are not destined to overcome their ailments. Sure, hospitals are the most likely places where we will witness deaths of patients. Sure the anxieties of kins of patients can make them blind to this reality and tend to blame doctors who attended their ailing loved ones, but as the saying goes there cannot be smoke without any fire. There would be black sheep in this profession which through the ages have earned itself the epithet of “noble”. There are indeed stories of doctors who prescribe drugs by the brand of their makers rather than the drug per se. There are even doctors who insist on their patients purchasing these drugs from particular retail outlets only, for obvious commissions they receive on items purchased. And there have been reports of such doctors getting sore with their patients for not following their purchase instructions. There are also stories of government doctors who neglect their official duties to attend private clinics even during duty hours. One rotten apple can spoil the entire basket of apples they say. So it is here, and indeed in all other profession. The difference is, on the scruples shown by doctors often hang the lives and welfare of their patients.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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