'Cannon fodder': Medical students in India feel betrayed

Full Screen
1 / 19

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Relatives arrive with a COVID-19 patient at a dedicated COVID-19 government hospital in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Coronavirus cases in India are surging faster than anywhere else in the world. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

NEW DELHI – Since the beginning of the week, Dr. Siddharth Tara, a postgraduate medical student at New Delhi’s government-run Hindu Rao Hospital, has had a fever and persistent headache. He took a COVID-19 test, but the results have been delayed as the country’s health system implodes.

His hospital, overburdened and understaffed, wants him to keep working until the testing laboratory confirms he has COVID-19.

On Tuesday, India reported 323,144 new infections for a total of more than 17.6 million cases, behind only the United States. India's Health Ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. Experts say those figures are likely an undercount.

“I am not able to breathe. In fact, I’m more symptomatic than my patients. So how can they make me work?” asked Tara.

The challenges facing India today, as cases rise faster than anywhere else in the world, are being compounded by the fragility of its health system and its doctors.

There are 541 medical colleges in India with 36,000 post-graduate medical students, and according to doctors' unions constitute the majority at any government hospitals — they are the bulwark of the India's COVID-19 response. But for over a year, they have been subjected to mammoth workloads, lack of pay, rampant exposure to the virus and complete academic neglect.

“We’re cannon fodder, that’s all,” said Tara.

In five states that are being hit hardest by the surge, postgraduate doctors have held protests against what they view as administrators’ callous attitude toward students like them, who urged authorities to prepare for a second wave but were ignored.