Are our health care professionals prioritizing the need of the hour over their own self-interest?
Over the last few weeks, we heard many opinions on why the country and its government need to ensure the safety of our health professionals, and doctors in particular, so that they are better-equipped to fight Covid-19. I agree with that sentiment 100%. They indeed are in the forefront of this war and they need all our support.
Covid-19 is a contagious disease and if we cannot provide our doctors with personal protective equipment, we run the risk of some of them getting infected, which in turn will strain a health system that is already stretched thin, and as a result we may have fewer doctors left on our side.
Therefore, it is in the best interest of the country to protect its doctors. It would be foolish to think that our government does not understand those facts or see that simple equation.
There are, however, some other facts and equations to reflect on too.
Fact 1: Bangladesh is a developing nation and like all developing nations we have resource constraints too. We cannot provide everything to the most deserving even when we realize we need to and want to. The fight against Covid-19 has already shown us that even many of the wealthy countries are unable to provide everything they need to for their doctors. The world is making do with what it can.
Fact 2: There actually are many doctors in Bangladesh who are doing the God’s work and serving the nation even when they don’t have adequate PPEs. Let’s categorize them as Group-A doctors. They are putting at risk their lives on a regular basis. They are dealing with an equation too.
On one hand, they have high personal risk factors to consider. On the other hand, they have the dire need of their country to consider. They are explicitly making a choice -- accepting the personal risks to serve their nation at an unprecedented hour of need.
Then there are other doctors -- let’s categorize them as Group-B doctors -- who are faced with the very same equation and explicitly choosing personal safety over national need and avoiding the frontlines of the Covid-19 battleground until adequate PPEs are provided. This is their choice and we have to respect that choice.
Fact 3: We must remember that the country did not force anyone to become doctors. It was an individual choice based out of free will. Of the hundreds of thousands that apply each year to medical colleges, the best and the brightest attend top government medical colleges. Others attend private medical institutions.
Fact 4: By the time they graduate, the nation has invested heavily in their education. Although exact numbers for Bangladesh are hard to locate, if our numbers are similar to those of our neighbouring countries, the government spends more than Tk1 crore to produce one doctor.
Fact 5: When they graduate, the doctors take a special oath to care for the sick. According to the Declaration of Geneva, drafted by the World Medical Association, part of the oath states: “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.”
The doctor’s oath covers a broader systemic responsibility.
Taking into consideration all these facts, we see that there are many doctors in Group-A who have prioritized their nation’s urgent need over self-interest; and then there are some doctors in Group-B who have prioritized self-interest over their nation’s urgent need.
Our country needs to do all it can to equip and protect its doctors in this fight against Covid-19. But at a time like this, the words of John F Kennedy should remind us: “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.”
On a day in the (hopefully not too distant) future when we will have emerged from this Covid-19 fight and when this nation pays its tribute to the heroic commitments and sacrifices of its doctors, the rightful recipients of those accolades must only be the Group-A doctors.
It would be unfair to lump all doctors together on that day.
Pial Islam is Managing Partner at pi STRATEGY.