India's Doctors 'Deeply Pained' by Modi's 'Unjust' Remarks in London

"The prime minister decided to humiliate us in a country that has very high regard for Indian doctors."

Mumbai: Doctors across India have expressed disappointment over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements made during his visit to London last week. Calling the remarks “unjust” and “uncalled for”, doctors’ associations from across the country have decided to mark their unhappiness through letters and protests.

During his three-day trip to London last week, among other things, Modi decided to criticise the medical fraternity. He alleged that there is a nexus between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and so doctors are blocking the way for generic drugs in the market.

In his speech, that has been widely circulated on social media, Modi referred to doctors’ “foreign trips” to attend pharmaceutical company-sponsored conferences. “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 said in the speech.

In response, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has written to Modi saying, “Indian medical fraternity is deeply pained by our PM’s uncalled for and unjust remarks. Because of these remarks, goodwill and esteem we have for him stand dented.” The association has also called for a nationwide protest in the coming days, the associations’ Maharashtra secretary, Dr Parthiv Sanghvi, confirmed to The Wire.

Sanghvi told The Wire that Modi’s statements were “misplaced” and appear to have stemmed from his “anger against the doctors’ fraternity” which had opposed the “pro-rich” National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2017. The medical fraternity has continued to be at loggerheads with the government over the contentious Bill which seeks to replace the Medical Council of India.

“We have opposed the Bill and had decided to go on a nation-wide protest for an indefinite period if the Bill was not withdrawn,” Sanghvi said. The Indian Medical Council has opposed the NMC’s selection and nomination process for its members, calling it “undemocratic” since 80% of the 25 seats would be elected by the government.

With over 60% of Indian doctors working in Great Britain, Sanghvi said Modi’s comment is contrary to what the reality is. “Indian doctors are in a great demand. In fact, almost 60% of the doctors with the General Medical Council in the UK are of Indian origin. It is embarrassing that the PM decided to humiliate us in a country that has very high regard for us (Indian doctors),” Sanghvi added.

In a press statement issued soon after Modi’s speech, IMA’s secretary-general Dr R.N. Tandon has said, “Indian doctors have brought international acclaim and repute due to their world-class proficiency and skill. Engaging in small talk and maligning the entire medical fraternity in India with a broad brush on foreign soil was certainly not expected out of the prime minister of the country.”

A statement issued by the Association of Medical Consultants says, “In general, we never talk negatively of our own countrymen, in front of external folks. India is already perceived as being corrupt by many polls and rankings. For our own prime minister to talk about corruption in medical practice on an international platform is extremely hurtful to the medical fraternity in India.”

The associations are particularly miffed with Modi’s allegation that the doctors are hand in glove with the pharmaceutical companies and that the doctors have been prescribing only branded medicines because of their nexus with pharmaceutical companies. In a letter sent to the PM’s office, the association states, “Maligning the medical fraternity in a foreign land in a language which is derogatory to the core is not expected from the prime minister.”

Sanghvi pointed out that the prime minister spoke of Jan Aushadhi Kendras (JAK) – generic medicine stores started by the government. “He alleged that we have not been considerate towards the government’s initiative of making cheaper, non-branded medicines available at much lower prices. But the fact is, we (IMA) has been one of its main supporters. In fact, the IMA headquarters in Delhi has a Jan Aushadhi Kendra for past four years, this, even when the store has been running at a loss,” Sanghvi claimed. “It is true that the doctors do not write a generic prescription, but that is also because they prefer quality drugs. In most cases, there is no quality control done over the generic drugs.”

But the Jan Aushadhi Kendra run in Mumbai agrees with the prime minister’s claims. The manager at a JAK in south Mumbai said that he has barely come across any doctor’s prescription for generic drugs since it was opened early last year. “It is mostly NGOs that direct poor patients to us. The doctors in Mumbai are not in the practice of prescribing generic drugs even in case of non- serious ailments.”

Some 3,000-odd JAK centres were to be set up across the country. Sanghvi pointed out these are too little and in cases where the doctors do opt for generic medicines, their availability is a problem.