Thousands of private doctors in India’s Rajasthan strike over right to health bill

NEW DELHI (Arabnews): Tens of thousands of private doctors in India’s Rajasthan state on Sunday continued their weeks-long strike in protest over a right to health bill, action supporters of the law claim goes against the spirit of medical care.

The landmark bill, which was passed in the state assembly on March 21 and is the first of its kind in India, aims to ensure equitable access to health for Rajasthan citizens, including the right to emergency treatment and care without prepayment at any public health institution, healthcare establishment, or designated medical center.

Under the new regulations, no medical facility, whether private or public, will be allowed to refuse a person seeking emergency treatment, the cost of which will be borne by the regional government.

But representatives of private medical facilities have said the bill was unclear on how they would be compensated and what constituted an “emergency condition,” among other concerns, and they have demanded the legislation be withdrawn.

“We demand that the government should first introduce the bill in the public-sector hospitals as a pilot project, not in private hospitals. The government should tidy up its own hospitals,” Dr. Sanjeev Gupta, media spokesperson for the Rajasthan chapter of the Indian Medical Association, the country’s largest association of medical workers, said. The association has been supporting the protests.

“Be it Rajasthan or the country, it’s the doctors who treat patients, and if you are bringing a right to health bill why is there no consultation with doctors knowing well that in the state 70 percent of healthcare facilities are in the private sector?” Gupta added.

“This is not the right to health bill but a right to kill doctor bill.”

Rajasthan is home to almost 10,000 private healthcare facilities and around 50,000 doctors.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Saturday urged doctors to call off the strike, claiming the continued protests were politically motivated. On March 27, tens of thousands of private and public doctors rallied on the streets in the state capital Jaipur to demonstrate against the bill.

“We have already acceded to most of the demands of the doctors and those who are opposing are politically motivated. We will address all the concerns of doctors at the time of the implementation of the bill,” Gehlot told a press conference.

With private health facilities shut throughout Rajasthan, some patients have had to seek care in neighboring states.

Dilip Rathod, a Rajasthan-based professional, told Arab News that one of his relatives had become ill at the weekend and had to drive to Haryana state for treatment. He said the bill was “good relief” for people of the state.

“It’s not easy for common people to bear the expensive cost of treatment in private hospitals. The bill gives common people some dignity to their life and hope that they can survive serious disease,” he added.

Dr. Abhay Shukla of Public Health Campaign, a national network of civil society organizations and movements working for health rights, described the bill as progress for public health.

“This is a one-of-a-kind bill in India which no other government has introduced,” Shukla told Arab News. “The bill is an attempt to strengthen the public health system at a time when the central government is not focusing on public health.

“There is no need to withdraw the bill. Doctors are holding 70 million people of Rajasthan to ransom. That is not acceptable.”

Prof. Rama V. Baru, community health expert at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News that the ongoing strike highlighted the profit-oriented mindset of the private sector.

“It is all about how well-entrenched the private sector has become in the medical sector. They don’t want to be regulated or controlled in any way. For them profit first is the whole idea,” she said.

Medical professionals were meant to “serve the people,” Rajasthan-based social and child rights activist Dr. Kriti Bharati told Arab News.

“It’s not meant to earn profit, but doctors are striving to earn profits,” Bharati said.

“Doctors take an oath to serve people, and this should be their primary focus.

“The right to health bill is a good initiative to provide health services to all and we should all support that.”