IMA, doctors hold nationwide protest; Health Ministry writes to States seeking safety of healthcare workers

Stir follows recent episodes of violence against professionals in hospitals

Several doctors across the country took part on Friday in a nationwide stir called by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) against the recent incidents of violence against healthcare professionals. The doctors and the IMA demanded a Central law to curb such cases. The association said that around 3.5 lakh doctors participated in the protest today.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has urged all States and Union Territories to ensure that prompt steps are taken for the safety and well-being of healthcare workers while strictly implementing the amended Epidemic Diseases Act. In his letter on Friday, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that healthcare workers are the most crucial resources in COVID-19 management on all fronts.

The letter, issued to Additional Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and Health Secretaries of all States and Union Territories, said that on multiple occasions, the Health Ministry had highlighted the need to ensure the safety and security of healthcare workers in their living and working premises.

“Our endeavours to manage COVID-19 are replete with examples of commitment by our healthcare workers at all levels. While the country at large has applauded the efforts of the health fraternity, there were examples of them being stigmatised and even violence resorted to against healthcare workers,” said Mr. Agarwal. He added that recently there have been reports of physical violence against doctors, healthcare workers and other professionals, particularly from Assam, West Bengal and Karnataka.

Epidemic Diseases Act

“Such incidents impact the morale of our healthcare workforce who have shown exemplary commitment against all odds in COVID-19 management. The Centre had brought an ordinance and later notified it as an Act, under which violence against healthcare personnel is a non-bailable and cognisable offence. On April 22 last year, the Health Ministry had issued an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, providing protection to healthcare personnel and their property against violence during epidemics. It was notified as an Act on September 29, 2020,” noted the letter.

The amended Act states that “whoever commits or abets the commission of an act of violence against healthcare service personnel, or causes damage or loss to any property” shall be punished with imprisonment and with a fine.

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