By Dr Arun Mitra
Medicine is not a profession but a passion. To uphold the dignity of medicine and to ensure commitment to the health care of the people, the World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Geneva was adopted in its 2nd General Assembly at in September 1948. The declaration highlights a physician’s dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine. The declaration was especially important in view of the medical crimes which had just been committed in German-occupied Europe.
As per this declaration the doctor commits and declares, ‘I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life to the service of humanity; I will maintain the utmost respect for human life; I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient’.
The medical personnel have to identify with the society and social concerns at every step. Dr. Rudolf Virchow who is considered to be the father of pathology stressed that ”If medicine is to fulfill her great task, then she must enter the political and social life.” He believed in the concept that ‘medicine is a social science,’ and that physicians are responsible to work on behalf of the poor. This means the physician must be sensitive to various issues of the society.
Besides the study of normal structure and working of the human body that is the anatomy, physiology, in medicine doctors have to learn the factors for causation of disease and the abnormality produced in the structure and functioning of the body. It is only after this elaborate study that one learns the art of treating the patient.
However prevention of disease forms the core of the curriculum throughout. Therefore in medicine one has to learn about the social determinants of health which include economic stability, employment, housing, poverty, food security, education, neighbourhood environment, healthcare access etc. Basic needs like clean air, clean drinking water, adequate sewerage facilities are essential to promote good health. A physician must engage on these issues if the WMA Geneva declaration is to be put into practice ideally. It is to the credit of medical profession that it raised voice against female foeticide; informed the public about the harmful effects of smoking and alcohol. Several doctors risk their lives by going deep into the areas of conflict to serve the sick and the infirm. Many doctors have also rendered yeoman’s services in natural and manmade calamities.
While treating the patients the doctors learn that peace and stability are most important for good health of the people. Violence prevention has become a public health issue. Scientifically outlined steps for its prevention have been outlined since health is the biggest calamity during such situation. The International physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) has conducted scientific studies on the climatic consequences of nuclear war and vociferously called for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. This was instrumental in passing Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Unfortunately peace and stability are under threat in large parts of the world today. There are forces globally who are out to create external and internal conflicts with the intention to make huge profits by selling arms. There are forces that are out to create communal and caste conflicts for political gains. Doctors can play an effective role in getting the society rid of such menace. It is therefore important that we have to shed pre-conceived ideas and biases based on gender, caste, religion and other prejudices which have been made prevalent in the society by such vested interests. It is understandable that many a times the doctors have to work in the situations under pressure and threat particularly during the conditions of conflicts, strife and social unrest. But we have to brave through these situations.
In India we are faced with a very precarious situation today. Obsolete ideas and myths are being spread by the forces spreading obscurantism for narrow political gains. These have to be opposed. It is an important task for a physician to strengthen scientific temper in the society. As an example the use of cow urine and cow dung in treating COVID-19 was opposed by several medical organisations. But it is unfortunate that the same organisations kept mum or joined the chorus to make the virus runway by banging ‘thalies’, clapping and lighting ‘Diyas’. This is something totally unexpected of a doctor.
Not many medical organisations or personnel came forward to side with Dr Kafeel who was falsely implicated for raising the issue of flaws in Oxygen supply at Gorakhpur hospital. Neither did they come out in open to oppose communal violence in Delhi and other places. This was due to conviction or fear, we do not know, but one thing is certain that keeping mum amounts to giving strength to communal and divisive ideas. We have to be bold enough to shed fear and speak the truth, while doing so we would be promoting right kind of politics. It is true that in the present commercialised atmosphere doctors have become part of the whole game. But we must stick to the Geneva declaration and not let any blot happen on our profession as happened during Nazi regime. (IPA Service)