The Director of a state government-run medical college in Odisha withdrew from surgical practice Friday, after doctors from two more government medical colleges threatened to join an ongoing cease-work strike by his institute’s junior doctors. The protesters have alleged that the senior surgeon was using unconventional methods of treatment, risking patients’ lives.
The director of Burla-based Veer Surendra Sai Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (VIMSAR), Dr Ashwini Pujahari, has been accused of cleaning open surgical site with edible salt and tonsuring patients struggling against alcoholism.
VIMSAR’s Junior Doctors Association has launched a strike and also issued a 48-hour deadline to the state government, which expires on Saturday morning, to remove Pujahari as director.
The association’s president Dr Debabrata Ray said Pujahari cleaned the “surgical site in a patient’s body during an operation using commercial, edible salt — which is not prescribed in any textbook.” A video clip of the surgery has gone viral on WhatsApp.
“If no action is taken, our counterparts in two other major state government medical colleges at Cuttack and Berhampur will join the strike,” Ray warned. The strike has affected medical facilities in several districts served by the college, including Sambalpur, Bargarh, Deogarh, Angul, Subarnapur, Balangir and Boudh and even border areas of Chhattisgarh.
Accepting that he used the above-mentioned procedures in treatment, Pujahari, a former armed forces doctor conferred with the rank of Air Commodore, told The Indian Express: “I knew what I was doing, but I have decided to withdraw from surgical practice so that the strike ends and patients don’t suffer.”
Claiming that no patient has ever complained about his methods, he said, “Some doctors are circulating these allegations because I have ensured regular attendance in the hospital and this has hit their money-making from private practice.” He said the video clip circulating on social media seemed genuine, but added that it shows a part of the surgery that helps the protesters’ allegations. “The clip does not show I used salt only for three to five minutes and then washed the area with water.”
“It was a case of pancreatic cancer… The recommended process is using saline solution of three per cent (concentration), but contact (usage) will be longer. Since my salt therapy was more concentrated, I used it for a proportionally shorter period of time,” he said. He said two patients, from Chhattisgarh and Angul, who received this treatment are “fine”.
The VIMSAR Director rejected claims that the patients he treated using the method have died “as a lie”. “One came to me after three weeks of surgery and was recovering, while the other has visited me twice over four months,” he said. Pujahari said he did not try such methods in his previous workplaces — AFMC (Pune) and Command Hospital (Bengaluru).
A committee, including Director of Health Services Dr H K Patnaik, has been set up to probe charges against Pujahari.
Earlier this year, Pujahari was accused of violating human rights by tonsuring a patient when he came to know about the latter’s history of alcoholism. “He was an 18-year-old boy who was constantly drinking and had pus in his liver. His mother begged me to do something. I shaved his head. I am a social reformer and advise people against alcohol consumption… This case was sent to Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and I was given a clean chit,” he said. He shared a video clip of the patient, in which he states that he was instigated to lodge the complaint to receive money from the state government. OHRC staff said they “can’t find details of the case”.
The protesters have said Pujahari, who has been appointed in an administrative post, is not supposed to perform surgeries. Pujahari said he had obtained permission from the state’s Directorate of Medical Education and Training.