Drafting Ayush docs no solution, absurd

The Karnataka government is blindly following 13 other states in the decision to allow practitioners of Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (Ayush) to prescribe allopathic medicine in rural primary health centres (PHCs). This is an ill-advised move that would not only encourage quackery but also prove costly in terms of human lives as the treatment of a patient would be in the hands of a person with little knowledge of allopathic medicine. The plan is to provide Ayush practitioners working in PHCs with a six-month “crash course” in allopathic medicine, at the end of which they will supposedly be able to treat communicable and non-communicable diseases in rural areas.

The logic behind this decision is that having some kind of a doctor in our remote villages is better than having no doctor there at all. By permitting Ayush practitioners to function as allopaths in villages, the Karnataka government is hoping to fix the shortage of doctors in the state’s rural health centres. Simultaneously, it is expecting to provide employment to thousands of jobless Ayush practitioners. It does seem that the Karnataka government is trying to kill two birds with one stone.The decision is deeply flawed, even dangerous. It takes several years of study and practice for a person to be able to treat patients in the allopathic system. Surely, a mere crash-course will not provide Ayush practitioners the requisite knowledge and skills to dispense allopathic treatment. The government says they can practice allopathy “during emergencies.” What are these emergencies and what if they entail surgery? How far is the Ayush practitioner-turned-allopath allowed to go? Certainly, India’s public health system is in a mess. Our PHCs suffer from a crippling shortage of skilled doctors. According to the Medical Council of India, the doctor-patient ratio in the country is just 1:2,000 in comparison to the World Health Organisation-mandated 1:1,000. Around 8% of the rural PHCs function without a doctor. The situation is likely to be far more serious if one takes into account a recent WHO study, which found that only 18.8% of ‘allopathic doctors’ in rural India had a medical qualification.

However, the way to improve healthcare is to act to free India from quackery and increase access to trained doctors. An improvement in the doctor-patient ratio would be possible by setting up more medical colleges in the country. The government must also consider making it mandatory for fresh medical graduates to serve in rural areas for a couple of years. Permitting Ayush practitioners to double up as allopathic doctors is not the solution to the problem of shortage of doctors; rather it will lead to newer, more complex problems.

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