Doctors in India hail new epidemic disease ordinance

By Cheena Kapoor

NEW DELHI, India (AA) – Indian healthcare professionals applauded the newly amended Epidemic Disease Ordinance 2020 but are demanding a deep-rooted solution to the problem of assaults on doctors and other medical staff.

On Thursday, President Ram Nath Kovind approved the ordinance to punish those attacking healthcare workers. While the medical community commended the amendments to the 123-year-old act, it also highlighted that a temporary solution will not resolve all problems.

Although the ordinance provides welcome relief amid the attacks, a more permanent solution for the attacks on doctors at government-run institutions is needed, said some.

“This is an Epidemic Ordinance, thus a temporary solution. Attacks on doctors are not new, and hundreds of cases of assault on doctors have been reported in the last few years. We need better infrastructure, more recruitments of doctors and a better health budget so that the doctor-patient ratio can be brought down. We also demand a central protection act for our safety,” Dr. Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors’ Association of the All India Institute of Medical Science, told Anadolu Agency.

The ordinance was approved by Union Cabinet ministers on Wednesday following reports of several cases of assaults on doctors during the coronavirus outbreak.

It amends the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 to make the offense cognizable and non-bailable, expedite investigation and imprison those convicted to up to seven years. The fine in such cases can go up to $6,576 and the offender shall also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property.

“The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 manifests our commitment to protect each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling COVID-19 on the frontline. It will ensure the safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety!” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The ordinance was approved amid reports of attacks on healthcare workers across the country by families of patients and mobs. Earlier this month, healthcare workers were attacked by a mob in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state. The viral videos of the attack on workers, who had visited the area to screen residents for signs of the coronavirus, were criticized worldwide.

On April 16, four people were injured at Moradabad in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state as a mob tried to stop a medical team from taking a coronavirus-infected man into isolation. The angry group hurled stones at the team's ambulance.

Five people who were accused of pelting stones at health workers in Moradabad later tested positive for COVID-19, reported local media.

On Tuesday, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) demanded the government to introduce a law to protect doctors, who are risking their lives. The IMA had announced a ‘white alert’ on April 22 which included lighting a candle while wearing a white coat to protest against the attacks. The association had warned that the ‘white alert’ would be a warning, and if the government does not take this seriously, then they will oversee a ‘Black Day’ on April 23, when all doctors would wear black badges.

The association had further highlighted that healthcare workers may go on strike if their demand for ‘safe workspaces’ is not met.

Late on Wednesday, the IMA withdrew its protest after interaction with Home Minister Amit Shah, who assured them of full security.

“The IMA expresses its heartfelt thanks to HM Amit Shah & Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan for their prompt action in bringing an ordinance to end violence against doctors & health workers. It will surely boost our morale to serve the nation in this crisis,” tweeted Dr. Rajan Sharma, national president of the Indian Medical Association.

As per the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, India has so far reported 23,039 cases including 721 deaths.

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