After a recent episode on medical malpractice on Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which represents some 1.78 lakh doctors, has demanded an apology from the film star. But there’s something questionable the association has in common with the filmstar—endorsements. Aamir once endorsed Coca Cola; the association endorses another soft drink and a soap, among other products. A body of doctors—People for Better Treatment—has now issued an open letter, pursuant to its complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), seeking investigation of IMA’s intentions and ethics, for it has been endorsing products for quite a few years.
Kunal Saha, president of People for Better Treatment, has written to the human rights watchdog, saying that such endorsements—especially of colas—could adversely impact people’s health. Children overindulging in colas could be at risk of obesity and other conditions.
According to Saha’s group, the IMA makes Rs 45 lakh annually for endorsing the products of the two companies. Therefore, the group argues, instead of demanding an apology from Aamir Khan, the IMA and other medical associations should have come forward to support the issues raised by Aamir in the Satyamev Jayate episode that dealt with malpractices in the health care system.
Dr D.R. Rai, secretary-general of the IMA, confirmed the deals. “They have been there for some time, but I do not remember the exact amount. But it’s for the health messages on the products.” In fact, he revealed that a lawsuit, too, had been filed in the Delhi High Court by “others upset with the IMA” and said that, because of the complaint and the case, the IMA wasn’t endorsing any product now—further endorsements would be resumed after the court verdict.
Meanwhile, Saha’s group is enlisting support for the issues raised on Aamir’s show. Groups like the Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and the Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) have asked the IMA to participate in the social regulation of the medical profession and work towards universal healthcare instead of demanding an apology from Aamir. These groups, too, have been skirmishing with the IMA through open letters. The MFC’s letter asks IMA to treat the issues raised on the show as a wake-up call and work towards its stated objective of “improvement of public health and medical education in India”. “It’s uncalled for, on part of the IMA, to oppose a rightful issue (raised by the filmstar)”, says Dr Probir Chatterjee of the MFC.
Among the steps the MFC suggests are the self-regulation of the medical profession with active participation of citizens, moving beyond mere bureaucratic regulation. It says doctors must focus on rational care and become sensitive to patients’ rights and healthcare. It stresses that the medical profession must move away from the current market-centric model to a more socialised form.
The attitude shown by the Indian Medical Association and the Medical Council of India regarding medical malpractice is shameful (Promo Provocation, Jul 23). The number of doctors among the 1.78 lakh who practice safe and affordable medicine and don’t resort to unethical methods is a minority. Malpractice is more a rule than an exception. But each of us, guilty or innocent, is blameworthy for allowing it to continue. As for our medical associations, a few local bodies of the ima do good work in the form of continuing educational programmes. But the majority are in it for networking and self-promotion, and for the funds provided by the drug companies sponsoring their programmes. And of course, for the famous “fellowship”: good food and drink thoughtfully provided by drug companies eager to get the doctors to endorse their medicines. The racket is huge. The money involved in the nexus between doctors, drug companies and the medical technology industries runs to several hundred crores. In 1998, I wrote to the mci’s director and the ima’s national president with a detailed account of rampant malpractice in a hospital in Idukki district, Kerala, where I worked for some time. Neither replied. I guess they’ve gotten used to it.
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