History tends to repeat itself. It is an expression we hear all the time. However, we fail to correct our mistakes from the past. Again, we have come across an undesirable and unacceptable situation in which citizens are being denied access to basic necessities such as urgent healthcare. Yesterday, the doctors of the Birdem hospital began an indefinite strike protesting an “assault on colleagues” by the relatives of a patient who died on Sunday night.
The doctors have demanded judicial investigation into the incident, and punishment of the perpetrators. They have stated that they will continue the strike until the perpetrators have been brought to book, which, unfortunately for all of us civilians, is far from ideal, considering the less than dependable justice system we have in place in our country.
This is not the first time that the Birdem doctors have gone on strike. In 2007, the Birdem doctors, including medical officers and consultants, enforced a strike on June 25 demanding regularisation of their service following issuance of a letter that said jobs of the doctors recruited on contract basis would not be renewed further.
At that time, no surgery took place, and admission of the new patients in the in-patient department was stopped. With the current protest, we see the same dire consequences – they have announced that the outdoor services are closed, and that the admission of new patients has been stopped.
Additionally, although Birdem has claimed to continue its operations at the hospital’s emergency wing – which include the ICU and the CCU – patients and their relatives fear that the delivery of emergency services will be hampered like the last time, when, from morning till afternoon, only one doctor visited the CCU, where patients are supposed to stay under direct observation for 24 hours.
Now let us focus on the main problem here, which is that the civilians are bearing the brunt of these actions. Access to healthcare is at the cornerstone of any nation attempting to modernise and achieve progress. It is a basic necessity – a right that should not be denied. We have seen the suffering in 2007, and we see it again.
In 2007, over 500 indoor patients were left almost unattended and uncared for – from elderly diabetic patients to pregnant women, no one was spared from the anguish. This is not simply about the physical strain that one has to go through in such times of crisis. There are also huge financial and time costs that are incurred as a result of the strikes and closures.
Yesterday, Nazma Begum brought her husband, who was suffering from respiratory complications and back pain, all the way from Narayanganj. These two, like many others, are spending their hard-earned income on travel expenditures and may have sacrificed one day’s work and wages to come to Birdem in the mere hopes of receiving some quality medical care, not to mention the hours that they must have spent travelling back and forth from their homes in Dhaka’s horrific traffic.
In 2007, the issue was about job renewals, and it was between the Birdem staff, ie the contract basis doctors and the authorities (the board). So, it was a purely internal matter. This time, the matter is between the doctors (service providers) and a patient’s family (service receiver). The doctors want to see justice as a result of an attack on them, whereas the attackers have claimed that the negligence of the doctors have resulted in the death of their relative.
In any case, resorting to violence by attacking the doctors and vandalising property is not the correct response on the part of the relatives. Although both the circumstances are complex, it does not give the right to the doctors to punish the healthcare-seekers.
Doctors and hospitals have a moral obligation to put the needs of the patients above everything else. This may require some compromises on their part, and they need to have the mental acceptance to make them. Hospitals must also have in place policies and due-process for such situations in order to minimise the sufferings of the patients and care-seekers.
We need to stop making excuses for not being able to attend to the needs of the millions of vulnerable women, men, and children who deserve access to quality healthcare. We need to ask ourselves how much longer we are willing to wait till we can get the benefits from our greatest asset, ie our people. Building human capital is only possible with access to health and education. A healthy nation is the only way to achieve development, and we must not forget that.