With 328 Covid-19 deaths, Tripura has the highest fatality rate among the Northeast states. The state’s health department recruited 75 doctors on contractual basis in the midst of the pandemic. However, a majority of them have left, saying they weren’t ready to brave COVID duty.
“They call us frontline warriors; so is the Army and the BSF and other armed forces. Can you send them to the battlefront with a temporary job?” said a doctor who had quit.
The government has not recruited any junior doctors since 2018 even as 844 vacancies have been lying vacant in the last two years.
Tripura has two medical colleges: Agartala Government Medical College (AGMC) and Tripura Medical College (TMC). The AGMC is a public medical college and is associated with Govind Ballabh Panth (GBP) Hospital, the apex state-run hospital of Tripura, while the TMC is a society-run institution, which gets financial assistance from the state government from time to time. The two medical colleges combined produce around 200 MBBS students each year.
After the last medical officer induction happened in March, 2018, over 600 medical students have passed out since then and are without government jobs. Though many of them have left Tripura for contractual work in private hospitals and nursing homes elsewhere in the country, over 400 are still waiting for a call from the health department.
“I passed out from Tripura Medical College in 2018. My father passed away that year and I had to take up a contractual job at the same hospital for some time. But the pay was way less than any regular doctor and the schedule was so hectic that I left the job, hoping government vacancies would be announced soon like in the previous years. Two and a half years on, I am still waiting,” an unemployed doctor, who didn’t wish to be named, told indianexpress.com.
The doctor, like many others, is burdened with an education loan. With no steady income, his family have depleted their entire savings.
“The WHO standards mandate one doctor for every 1,000 people. Let alone the WHO standards, we don’t even have sufficient doctors as per sanctioned posts in Tripura. Who thought medical professionals would sit jobless here?” he adds.
Another unemployed doctor said his family of three survives on the Rs 6,000 pension his father gets. The family is struggling to pay their bills with education loan installments piling up.
Those studying at the government medical college pay relatively less fees but an MBBS seat in Tripura Medical College (TMC) costs a fortune. TMC revised its fee structure to Rs 54 lakhs this year, a significant jump from Rs 40 lakhs last year and Rs 18 lakhs three years back.
With rising fees and current levels of unemployment, doctors say studying medicine would become remain a dream for many.
According to data placed in the state Assembly in 2018, Tripura had 1,178 doctors and 2,269 nurses in service at the time. This included 1,050 allopathic doctors, 27 homeo doctors, 85 Ayurvedic doctors and 53 dental physicians. It also had vacancies in 844 medical officer posts, 827 para-medical and technician and 956 in Multi-Purpose Worker.
Moreover, the All Tripura Government Doctor’s Association (ATGDA) says 30-40 doctors retire on an annual basis; many are engaged in administrative positions like medical superintendents, Chief Medical Officers (CMO) in districts and Sub-Divisional Medical Officers; 200 doctors are selected for post-graduate studies every year; and around a hundred are on leave after they were found COVID-19 positive in the line of duty.
A doctor who passed from AGMC this year said all the unemployed doctors in the state have come together to form an organisation called Unemployed Doctors Association of Tripura and have placed three demands before the government.
The demands include immediately fill the vacant posts in the state health services, issue experience certificates to all doctors offering voluntary services at COVID care centers, and clear pending honorariums of such doctors.
The doctors said they tried to contact the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) time and again through email and phone but didn’t get any positive response for an appointment. This led them to write a letter to Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb.
“..in these difficult times of COVID-19 pandemic, there is an additional requirement for more doctors to serve the people of this state in an adequate way to mitigate their health needs and also to reduce the extra burden on the existing doctors of the state health service.,….We would also like to bring your kind attention to the matter that many of us have taken education loan, mortgaged our land and other important family assets to complete our MBBS course. Now our families are going through difficulties due to the mortgages and loans we took for the studies”, read the letter signed by over 90 unemployed doctors.
Expressing support and solidarity towards the demands of unemployed doctors, ATGDA general secretary Dr. Rajesh Choudhury said, “The condition of the healthcare workforce is very poor here. We have been asking the government constantly to initiate new recruitments. But we have come to know the government doesn’t have sufficient funds. We shall reiterate our demand soon”.
Health Secretary Jitendra Kumar Sinha, who assumed charge recently, refused to comment. Officers below the rank of Secretary are not authorised to speak to the media in Tripura.
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