A paramedical cadre is needed, but empowering homeopaths is wrong-headed.
Citing the lack of MBBS doctors to minister to the needs of the rural population, Maharashtra has allowed homeopaths to prescribe allopathic medicines. Medical bodies in the state have reacted sharply, suggesting that this has been done to favour politicians who run homeopathy colleges. But setting aside the obscure politics and petty economics, this decision offers an opportunity to examine how the supply of rural medicare may be improved without forcing medical graduates to take remote postings.
The need for a paramedical cadre is strongly indicated — a body of professionals who have enough medical knowledge to minister to minor medical problems and the sense to refer complicated cases to appropriately specialised doctors. Maharashtra seems to expect that homeopaths can fit the bill with a crash course in pharmacology alone. But two related questions remain to be answered, even setting aside the issue of the credibility of homeopathy, which is eternally contested. One, since the systems of homeopathy and allopathy are fundamentally different in terms of basis and method, how can homeopaths follow allopathic methods of diagnosis and therapy that they are unaware of? Two, pharmacological knowledge must be supplemented by at least the rudiments of physiology, biochemistry, anatomy and clinical practice for it to be usable. These categories of knowledge do not appear to be offered.
Instead of such piecemeal, ad hoc solutions, a national policy defining a paramedical cadre, the parameters for its training and the limits to its powers should be hammered out. Subcategories like homeopaths and practitioners of traditional medicine can find room for themselves within such an architecture. MBBS graduates would be eager to work in rural areas only after they are developed. Until then, a properly defined and trained paramedic cadre can deliver life-saving and life-improving interventions to the underserved.