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IMA Demand for Martyr Status For  Doctors Dying in COVID War: Naveen Patnaik's Example Worth Replicating

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 18, Sep 2020, 8:29 am IST | UPDATED: 27, Sep 2020, 18:12 pm IST

IMA Demand for Martyr Status For  Doctors Dying in COVID War: Naveen Patnaik's Example Worth Replicating
Odisha Government Announced  Martyr Status for Doctors and Health Care Personnel in April 
 
Odisha Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik  made a historic and exemplary announcement on 2st April 2020 that martyr status would be accorded to those doctors and health care professionals, of both public and private medical institutes of the State,  in the event of their death  while fighting   COVID 19  and administering treatment to the victims of novel coronavirus. He also announced that such doctors  apart from getting martyr status would get State funeral and State honours and receive  an ex gratia amount Rs. 50 lakhs each in convergence with the initiative of the Union Government in this regard and families of those Government personnel (medical and others) would  continue to get  full salary till the date of their retirement. 
 
IMA Demanded Martyr Status for Doctors in August 
 
The exceptional significance of that momentous announcement for the whole of India is realised with added vigour when we juxtapose it with the demand  by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), in its letter to the Government of India on 30th August 2020, that the doctors who lost life while treating COVID 19 patients and fighting the dreaded novel coronavirus should be given martyr status.  
Government of India did not have data on doctors who died in COVID war 
 
It is worthwhile to note that the  request of the IMA for martyr status for doctors was reiterated on 16th September 2020 when the Union Health Minister Shri Harsh Vardhan, in his statement in the Parliament on the same day,   stunningly stated that it has no data on the number of doctors and health care workers who died in the frontline of COVID19 battle. The IMA was shell shocked by such a statement of the Health Minister and revealed that a total of 382 doctors have breathed their last while fighting  the COVID pandemic. In  a press release issued on 16th September 2020 it charged the Government of India that  "It faithfully conceals the morbidity and mortality of doctors and health care workers." With  anguish it noted that, "This indifference to the sacrifice of doctors and health care workers is the reality of COVID 19" and " It appears that they are dispensable". Stating further that "No nation has lost as many doctors and health care workers like India" it went on to assert by saying, "Doctors suffer four times mortality of ordinary citizens and private practitioners suffer eight times on the same scale".  Then it regretfully mentioned that,  "To feign that this information does not merit attention of the nation is abominable" and categorically pointed out that "If the Government does not maintain the statistics of total number of doctors and health care workers infected by COVID 19 and the statistics of how many of them sacrificed their life due to COVID pandemic, it loses the moral authority to administer the Epidemic Act 1897 and the Disaster Management Act".  The IMA then observed, "This also exposes the hypocrisy of calling them corona warriors on one hand and denying them and their families the status and benefits of martyrdom". 

It then thoughtfully noted, 

"While the brave soldiers on the boarders countenance the enemy they do so with enormous risk to their personal self. Yet none of them bring home the bullets to be shared with their families. On the contrary the doctors and health care workers not only get infected in the line of their national duty but also bring home the infection to their families including children. To treat these martyrs indifferently is national sacrilege". 
 
Referring to the statement of the Union Minister of State for Health Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey that "....public health and hospitals come under the States and so the insurance compensation data is not available with the Union Government" the IMA in its aforementioned press release  painfully observed, "This amounts to abdication of duty and abandonment of national heroes who have stood up for our people". It concluded  by saying with a heavy heart that,  "IMA finds it strange that after having formulated an unfriendly partial insurance scheme for the bereaved families to struggle with the ignominy of the Government disowning them altogether stares at them".  
Govt of India Appealed only for Clapping, Lighting Lamps and Showering Flowers on Hospitals for Doctors 
 
The pain and pathos expressed by the Indian Medical Association that the Union Government has not exceeded to its appeal of 30th August 2020 for according status of martyrs to doctors and health care workers losing life while serving in the frontline of the COVID war do not augur well for country and society which is witnessing record levels of daily infections almost touching one lakh. 
 
In the initial stages of country wide lock down imposed on 24th March 2020 the Union Government asked people to clap, bang utensils, light lamps and it even deployed military helicopters to  shower petals on hospitals to honour the doctors and health care professionals engaged in the forefront of the COVID war. All such activities should have been backed by substantive and concrete public policy measures in response to the demand of the Indian Medical Association. 
 
It is worthwhile to note that the Chief Minister of Odisha took a decision in the last week of April 2020 to accord martyr status to doctors and health care professionals without any demand from  doctors or their associations in Odisha. It speaks volumes for his  leadership based on compassion, empathy, care and sensitivity for the medical and health care fraternity . 
 
The historic pronouncements of Chief Minister were made when Odisha had only 83 COVID positive cases  out which 32 had  recovered.That  pronouncement should be seen in combination  with his earlier demand before the Prime Minister that protective gear, critical care equipment and masks for health care personnel must be available in large quantities to deal with the menace posed by the COVID pandemic. These  underline the point that invaluable lives of medical personnel needs to be protected when they remain in the frontline to treat, care and look after  the patients on a continuous basis at the grave risk of their lives. 
 
Discerning Distinction Between Soldiers and Doctors Redefines Patriotism in COVID Era 
 
The IMA in its press release very sensitively made a distinction between soldiers who safeguard the unity and integrity of our country and the doctors and health care workers who protect our health security from the COVID pandemic. It stated that while soldiers at enormous cost to their lives safeguard our country from external aggression they never carry bullets  to their families. It stated that  doctors and other health care workers while fighting the novel coronavirus carry home the virus and infection with them. This discerning distinction between soldiers and doctors redefine patriotism from the perspective of health security. Therefore, Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik's historic pronouncement according martyr's status to doctors and health care workers engaged in the fight against COVID pandemic and the demand of the IMA before the Union Government for similar status for the medical professionals who laid down their lives while fighting the COVID war redefines patriotism and looks at it from the point of view of health and wellness. China officially honoured doctors who died of COVID 19 while treating corona infected patients as martyrs. Iran has declared that it would  recognize doctors and nurses who died combating the new coronavirus as “martyrs” like slain soldiers. In fact Mark Lawrence Schrad, an associate professor of political science at Villanova University, insightfully wrote,
 
 "America has long equated patriotism with the armed forces. But you can't shoot a virus. Those on the frontlines against corona virus are not conscripts, mercenaries or enlisted men; they are our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, care givers....Like Wen Linag and the doctors of Wuhan, many are suddenly saddled with unfathomable tasks, compounded by an increase risk of contamination and death they are not signed up for....Perhaps, too, we will finally start to understand patriotism more as cultivating the health of your community, rather than blowing up someone else's community. May be the demilitarisation of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this awful mess". 
 
Naveen Patnaik's Example shows the way to implement IMA Demand 
 
Had the Prime Minister of India paid heed to the  pronouncement of  Odisha Chief Minister for granting martyr status to deceased doctors in COVID war and taken steps to implement  it at national level the idea of patriotism would have been taken to a loftier level subsuming health, human and economic security. Hope good sense prevails to implement the demand of the IMA in the manner in which Odisha Government has an example in April itself. 
 
.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity. 
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