‘We are poor, but are we not human?’

Published in the Daily Star on 24 March 2009.

Asif Saleh and Rumi Ahmed
Unattended and uncared for.

Every Saturday our prime minister speaks directly to the common people for a few hours and hears their grievances, and later asks the relevant ministry to take action on these matters.

Yesterday was one such day. I wasn’t there. But if I were, what would I tell the PM?

I would have told her about the inhuman barbarity of some of those people known as “internee doctors” of Dhaka Medical College (DMC). They are the fresh medical graduates who work for junior house physicians in different departments of the hospital. Internee session is the period when a student becomes a doctor. They manage patients under supervision of senior house physicians.

For this work they get paid by our government — a decent salary with free housing and heavily subsidised meals. After getting their education, subsidised by the tax payers’ money, at close to no fees, their job, as internees is to get some practical knowledge — successful completion of which lets them obtain physician license in Bangladesh.

Boy, but what a service they are giving their patients! What was done at DMC on March 20-21 by a group of thugs is so inhumane and barbaric that it’s painful to realise that this is done by our own countrymen to their own people. To understand this somewhat complex story, I will use time-lines below put together from various news reports.

Friday 2:30pm: A 30-year old man, injured after being hit by a falling roof of a shopping centre, was brought to DMC immediately.

Around 6pm: The patient dies after being left unattended after admission for 30 minutes at the emergency. The relatives blame the attending doctor for negligence and misbehave.

9pm: Internee doctors refuse to issue a death certificate and hand over the body to the relatives.

11pm: One of the elder relatives asks for forgiveness for the misbehaviour and requests the body to be handed over.

Saturday midnight: The internee doctors call a strike, confine the director of DMC and ask for his resignation. The internees force staff to block the entrance to the emergency. They bang tables and shout abuse at the director. As demanded by the junior doctors, the confined DMC director files a case against the dead patient’s relatives.

1am: The agitating doctors call the widow who lost her husband just 6 hours earlier in an accident and her younger brother under the excuse of negotiation for handing over the body. As they step in the hospital, they are manhandled and handed over to Shahbagh police. The wife had her 7-month old child in her arms while being arrested.

2am: Emergency patients are stranded as the doctors shout out abuse. One of them, a pregnant woman, was seen lying unattended while her relatives were stuck on the other side of the blocked entrance. Relatives of patients are stuck inside the hospital and some of them unable to get medicine from outside.

9am: Doctors continue their “strike” even after the demands were met. The health advisor and the health minister arrive at the scene and request the emergency gates to be opened.

10.30am: The doctors open the emergency gate at this request, but the strike continues. They demand the resignation of the director.

11am: The relatives and neighbours of the deceased protest the arrest of the wife and block roads in Rampura for one hour.

Noon: The wife of the deceased released by police after 12 hours, pending her appearance in court, on account of the baby.

2pm: The doctors call off the strike and release the dead body. Over 2,000 patients, a good many of them critical, refused treatment during the 14 hour strike.

One of the relatives says to a TV camera: ”I know we are poor, but are we not human?”

Dear Prime Minister,

I want to ask you too: Are they not human? While my relatives and yours get treated at the lavish Square and United Hospital under the best care, do these citizens of Bangladesh not deserve at least the most basic care — being attended by a doctor at an emergency? While all of the privileged can go to private hospitals, DMC remains the only hospital with an emergency outlet in Dhaka for treating major trauma from road accidents and burn injuries.

Why do these thugs get sweet talked by the health minister in spite of committing such acts and how can we let this go on in such a major institute of ours?

Dear PM, can I ask you to take a stand for the little people who voted for you hoping for a change?

Can I ask you to make sure these forty odd doctors who committed such thuggeries pay a price for the gross abuse of trust and professionalism?

Internee doctors are not essential to run day to day business of the hospital. There is a huge surplus of senior house physicians working in all departments and these doctors could have managed the hospital easily during the internees strike. But these doctors were forcing others not to work and was locking down departments. While strikes may be legal, shutting down the hospital preventing others from rendering service is absolutely immoral.

Dear PM, we want you to do the right thing and not tolerate such act of violence.

Dear PM, perhaps I should be writing this letter to the health minister. But it’s early days. You need to know the trend and you need to ask where the muscle powers of these people are coming from. You need to ask what’s going on in the medical colleges in the name of swadhinota chikitshok porishad (Shachip) the organization of doctors affiliated with your party.

I want to know from all of my readers – how long will we continue to expect our good citizens to remain calm and quiet in the face of such gross injustice in their daily lives? How many lives need to be lost before their backs hit the wall and they strike back?

And those of you who were responsible for sending a grieving widow and her 7 month old infant son to jail because her relatives hurt your big, fat ego, I pray to Allah that you get back what you deserve.

But I also fearfully think that ‘you’ are also ‘we.’ These internees are also our brothers, sisters and children. As we question how it was possible for some BDR soldiers to commit the heinous murders, the answer lies in the internee incidents as well. As a nation, we are increasingly resorting to violent, inhuman act to make our point. For now, I can only pray to Allah for justice in after life because in this mortal life there is no justice for the poor in Bangladesh.


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