India’s doctors have deplored certain remarks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in London that they see as an attempt to make them “scapegoats” for the problems of the country’s healthcare system that successive governments, including his own, have failed to address.
In his speech last week, circulated through YouTube, Modi had alluded to doctors’ foreign trips to attend pharmaceutical company-sponsored conferences, appearing to imply a nexus between them.
“You probably know that doctors’ conferences are held sometimes in Singapore, sometimes in Dubai. They don’t go there because people are ill there; they go because the pharmaceutical companies need them to,” Modi had said.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Association of Medical Consultants (AMC) said that tarring the entire medical community with the same brush was not expected of the Prime Minister.
The IMA is India’s largest body of doctors with a membership of over 280,000, while the Mumbai-based AMC has a membership of about 11,500 consultants.
Modi had also cited how his government had established over 3,000 drug stores across the country to sell low-cost generic medicines, and how it had imposed price caps on coronary stents and knee implants.
Some doctors conceded that Modi’s remarks reflected longstanding concerns, backed by evidence, over drug companies offering doctors incentives that range from gifts to trips.
“(But) his government has not done anything to stop this practice,” said Gurinder Grewal, a physician in Ludhiana and member of the Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare.
Grewal had written to the government last year seeking regulations to prevent doctors and hospitals from making indirect gains from the drug industry.
An IMA statement said Modi’s “unfortunate remarks” had “brought disrepute to Indian doctors and India”, and that “the goodwill and trust invested in you by Indian doctors stand diminished”.
“The health system of the country from where you commented on Indian doctors would collapse without Indian doctors,” the statement said. “The onus of the mess in healthcare squarely falls on successive governments, including yours.”
In an independent statement on Saturday, the AMC said that Modi’s remarks were “extremely hurtful” to the Indian medical fraternity.
“By and large, Indian doctors are law-abiding, honest citizens. By singling out the medical fraternity and painting all with the same brush, you have hurt, (and) brought shame and humiliation to, Indians as a whole.”
IMA office-bearers said the Prime Minister’s remarks had evoked widespread anger.
“When the Prime Minister says something like this, it damages the doctor-patient relationship which is already at its nadir in this country,” Ravi Wankhedkar, senior surgeon and national president of the IMA, told.
“I have received many messages from common doctors who feel hurt.”
Wankhedkar said 99 percent of doctors worked honestly. “Now, if I write three medicines for a patient, I could be suspected of writing a medicine that is not required,” he said.
“If I go on vacation with my own money, I could be suspected of being sponsored by a company.”
The IMA and the AMC have stressed that it’s the government’s responsibility to regulate drug prices.
“Stricter pricing control on (the) pharmaceutical industry is required and not pointing fingers at doctors as we do not control the pricing of medicines or stents,” the AMC said.
An IMA official accused the Modi government of failing to act on the association’s longstanding demand for a revision of drug pricing policies to make all medicines affordable.
Wankhedkar cited how the government continued to allow pharmaceutical companies to make “huge profit margins” on drugs. “The government can bring down prices tomorrow if it really wants to,” he said.
Referring to the government’s low investments on health, the AMC said people had to rely on private healthcare because of a lack of government healthcare.
It said that doctors “cannot be made scapegoats for (the) failure of successive governments to provide affordable healthcare to our populace”.>