The Indian Medical Association should indeed sue Aamir Khan!

Medical malpractices and related corruption are rampant but the truth rarely comes out. And that is why it would be great if the IMA sues Aamir Khan

I recently came across a news item in The Hindu which stated, “The Indian Medical Association (IMA)…demanded an immediate apology from actor Aamir Khan, accusing him of having defamed the medical profession in the 27th May episode of his TV show Satyamev Jayate, and warned him of legal action if he didn't do so. IMA secretary general Dr DR Rai told journalists: ‘Every profession has its black sheep. …But it can safely be claimed that the white sheep will always outnumber the black ones in every field. …It was extremely wrong on the part of a responsible citizen of the country and a public figure like Aamir Khan, whom most of the citizens of the country might even consider as their role model, to put the rotten eggs over the good ones,’ he said.” (IMA demands apology from Aamir)

There is an interesting parallel here and associations, irrespective of the industry, seem to be more oriented to claiming that the black sheep (in their industry) are far and few. Folks, you may remember that in June 2010, about three months before the height of the Indian microfinance crisis (October 2010 onwards), the then chairman of MFIN said almost the same thing and I reproduce his quote:

“Unfortunately, recent headlines have focused on some aberrations in microfinance that have then spread misconceptions about the industry as a whole…We want to emphasize that the sector should be judged by its median and best and not by the black sheep that damage our cause and the cause of the people we wish to serve. Every industry has its bad apples and we are committed to expose and expel them.” (MFIs as engines of inclusive growth by Vijay Mahajan, The Economic Times, 28 June 2010).

What happened thereafter is well known and it is another matter that neither MFIN nor other actors in the Indian microfinance industry did little to stop the black sheep—some of whom were members of MFIN. Part of the reason as to why the Indian microfinance industry and MFIN were unable to act on the black sheep was perhaps because of the fact that some of the so-called black sheep MFIs were themselves part of the overall governance structure at MFIN. Therefore, it became slowly clear that huge conflicts of interest prevented the association from acting in public interest and in accordance with its original mission. I wonder if such a situation prevails at the Indian Medical Association as well.

That apart, I am really looking forward to the day when the IMA will sue Aamir Khan and I hope that they do so immediately. I am sure that given the disenchantment with the medical profession in India over the last few years, many Indians (myself included) would be willing to implead themselves into the case and provide tangible evidence in support of Aamir Khan’s views.

Without question, there have been many good doctors who have provided yeoman services to this country.I do not think anyone is disputing that. However, what needs to be squarely recognized is the fact that medical malpractices and corruption cases are indeed increasing by the day. I report a few such instances here:

Instance # 1: A 30 year old acquaintance underwent spinal surgery to remove a disc. During the operation, his nerves were damaged. In spite of additional surgeries done by the hospital, he could not be cured and he now lives with acute back pain.

Instance # 2: In another instance concerning a friend’s 52-year old mother, during a back surgery, the spinal canal was supposedly accidentally punctured and the patient suffered a serious disability and now lives with long-term pain.

Instance # 3: A maid servant, working in a friend’s house, aged about 57 years, had complained of muscular type of pain. On her way back home, she went in search of a doctor. She saw a clinic and entered by mistake—as she could not read/write she did not realize it was a dental clinic. When she walked out she was poorer by almost Rs912 (almost 20% of her salary)—which had been taken by the clinic for a whole range of unnecessary tests and medicines that in no way would have alleviated her original (muscular) pain.

Instance # 4: A friend’s uncle (about 79 years) was admitted to a large private hospital a couple of years ago with gall bladder related problems. According to the family, negligence in treatment, unhygienic conditions and lack of standard care during the 1st three weeks of hospitalization led to respiratory complications and the patient had to be put on a ventilator. After a harrowing five months, by when the family had to cough up close to Rs1 crore for hospital and other medical expenses, the man finally breathed his last.

These instances are but a tip of the iceberg. India is replete with examples of medical malpractices and related corruption. From wrong diagnosis to unnecessary and repeat tests/procedures to inadequate/wrong treatments, poor standard of overall care, gross negligence and the like, medical malpractices indeed appear to be burgeoning over the last few years. We certainly need to take stock and set the record straight. And that is why it would be great if the IMA sues Aamir Khan as then, the people of India, who have been traumatized by the medical malpractices and corruption could step forward to recount their own stories and happenings in a telling manner.

Without question, the commercialization of medicine (without necessary checks and balances) has perhaps resulted in medical ills, frauds and malpractices being perpetuated on the people. Therefore, it is time to build safeguards including the creation of an effective and easily accessible network of medical ombudsman who can take strong, severe and swift action against the (errant) black sheep in the Indian medical fraternity.

(Ramesh Arunachalam has over two decades of strong grass-roots and institutional experience in rural finance, MSME development, agriculture and rural livelihood systems, rural and urban development and urban poverty alleviation across Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. He has worked with national and state governments and multilateral agencies. His book—Indian Microfinance, The Way Forward, is the first authentic compendium on the history of microfinance in India and its possible future.)

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