The interns at public medical college hospitals are now in the midst of their72-hour work abstention programme, launched to protest the government actions against four of their colleagues.
The health ministry took punitive actions against the interns for physically assaulting the son of an elderly male patient at the Shahid Ziaur Rahman Medical College Hospital in Bogra. The official actions came on the basis of the findings of a probe committee headed by an additional secretary of the ministry of health and family planning.
As part of the punishment, the internship of the four has been suspended for six months and each of them has been transferred to four different medical colleges. Health Minister Mohammad Nasim personally made available the probe report to newsmen on March 02 last and announced the actions taken against the errant doctors.
The health minister is sticking to a tough stance on the issue. But a section of leaders of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) is, according to a newspaper report, indirectly supporting the interns' actions.
Meanwhile, the patients at the public medical hospitals are being subjected to immense sufferings due to interns' strike. Many patients have started leaving these hospitals to seek treatment at expensive private hospitals and clinics.
Interns do play a very important role in public medical college hospitals as mid-level and senior doctors are not available all the time. Interns also get indulgence from regular doctors of these hospitals. Such an indulgence from senior doctors and hospital administration, it is alleged, does often provoke the interns to misbehave with patients and their relatives and take recourse to extreme measures like work abstention.
When the basic spirit of the medical profession is to help mitigate the sufferings of the patients, the would-be doctors are found taking recourse to agitation giving a damn to ethical obligations.
This is, however, not for the first time that interns are staging a strike programme. They did resort to same thing on a number of occasions in the past. The interns are aware of their strength and government's vulnerability when they take patients as hostages.
Unfortunately, the common people are always at the receiving end everywhere, be it transport sector or health arena.
Government health facilities are mainly visited by poor and low income people. So, the main brunt of the strike by the medical professionals is always borne by the common people.
The other day when transport workers resorted to strike, the common people suffered. Failing to get public transports they had to walk miles to reach their destinations. Many were forced to cancel their outbound journeys.
The reasons behind people suffering so much on account of unruly behaviour on the part of muscle-flexing groups of people operating in different sectors include the absence of good governance and the failure of institutions, private or public, to stick to basic rules. Covert or overt support of the self-seeking politicians to such groups has made the situation even worse.
For instance, had the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and the agencies involved in enforcement of traffic rules been true to their roles and acted in accordance with the relevant acts and regulations, the transport owners and workers would not got the scope to flex their muscles. The fact remains that these agencies have always failed to perform, thus, giving rise to an anarchic situation in the transport sector.
Similarly, the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council (BMDC), relevant government agencies and organizations of health professionals have never been serious about guiding and motivating doctors to stick to ethical standards while discharging their duties and responsibilities. The Hippocratic Oath by which the new physicians swear to uphold specific ethical standards, apparently, does carry little meaning in the professional life of a good number of them.
The BMDC is empowered to provide registration to the new physicians and also cancel the same in the event of wrongdoing. But the Council has proved itself to be a non-functional entity as far as professional misconduct by doctors is concerned. The Council, in addition to physician members, includes people from other professions and administration. However, it is difficult to say whether all of them take active interest in the operation of the council.
Besides, there are many past instances where the government had succumbed to unjustified demands of the physicians for the sake of ending the sufferings of patients in hospitals.
In the 1980s, the physicians under the banner of the BMA often resorted to strike to press home their professional demands. This apex professional association, to a large extent, remained out of ruling party influence. But the situation has changed in recent years. Like other professional organisations, the BMA elections are also held in political line. That is why there has been severe erosion in its influence. A bit of tail-twisting from the powerful quarters, it seems, is enough to make it change its stance on any issue, including so-called movement. The sudden end in the latest violent strike by transport workers is pointer to that fact.