National Doctors’ Day was established by the Government of India back in 1991 in honour of the birth and death anniversary of the physician and the second Chief Minister of West Bengal Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. Since then, July 1 in India is marked as the National Doctor’s Day to show gratitude to all doctors.
Doctors have been fighting a long war from the frontlines against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, saving lives at the cost of their own. To pay a tribute to the selfless work done by doctors and to honour their dedication towards serving humanity, the Government of India along with the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a national voluntary organisation of doctors in the country, celebrate National Doctors’ Day on July 1 every year. With the pandemic still far from over, this day and every day is important to honour many doctors who have sacrificed their lives in the last year.
Dr. Satya, a Delhi-based pulmonologist said, “The doctors and health workers have been extending their shifts. We have been working more than 16-18 hours every day since the pandemic began.”
“We did not have time to cry, we kept working like zombies," said Dr Ritu Saxena, head of the emergency department at Lok Nayak Hospital.
For Dr Saxena, working in the city’s biggest Covid-19 treatment centre Lok Nayak Hospital, it was the death of a colleague’s wife that hit the hardest. “When one of our own doctors came to the hospital emergency department, we realised that his wife’s oxygen saturation was also low. But they had a nine-year-old son, so she decided to go home and wait for her family to come before getting admitted to the hospital. She was admitted a day later with just 84% saturation. She died the next day in front of her husband who was in the same ward,” said Dr Saxena.
The second wave of the pandemic, she said, was like war. “The hospital was full; sometimes we had four patients sitting on one bed taking oxygen from a large cylinder because we had run out of oxygen ports. We had to triage; take in patients we knew would have a better chance of survival. We were taking in younger patients,” she said.
“When the oxygen crisis hit and we were asked not to take in any more patients, my doctors went outside the hospital gate without their coats and I drove around to see whether there were sick patients we could help,” she added.
Along with a gruelling day in the emergency department, she was also tasked with ensuring that all bodies were disposed of on time. She recalled a day when there were nearly 100 bodies at the hospital and she kept dispatching ambulances throughout the day. “I had deputed 20 ambulances, yet I kept getting calls for more. That night, I dreamed of having to carry the dead in my car.”
She said she had never faced a situation like the second Covid-19 wave despite the hospital being a high volume centre. Amid the entire crisis, there was no time to process grief. “We lost family members, we couldn’t even cry. We did not have the time. We just kept working like zombies,” she said.
Being trapped in the uncomfortable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hours every day, treating Covid-19 and non-Covid patients, taking online consultation, dealing with the shortage of medical supplies and staff, keeping up with everyday developments in Covid-19 research, the pandemic has been hard on the doctors. During this long fight with Covid, the country has lost over 1,500 doctors to the pandemic, according to IMA. This includes 736 doctors during the first wave and 798 doctors from the first week of April till June 29. The highest number of deaths among doctors have been reported from Delhi (128), followed by Bihar (115).
It is important to note here that the actual figure related to deaths of doctors during Covid-19 may be higher as IMA only keeps a record of its 3.27 lakh members. With an aim to dedicate the day to the doctors who succumbed to Covid-19, the theme of the day this year is ‘Save The Saviours’.
During his recent ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on June 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed doctors for going out of their way to perform their duty.
"A few days from now, on July 1, we will celebrate National Doctors’ Day. This day is dedicated to the birth anniversary of the great doctor and statesman of the country, Dr BC Roy. We are all grateful for the contribution of doctors during the Corona period. Our doctors have served us without caring about their lives. Therefore, this time National Doctors’ Day becomes even more special," the PM said.
Acknowledging the gesture, Dr JA Jayalal, president, Indian Medical Association, said that the PM has assured that doctors will be respected and protected. He said, "PM Modi ensured that doctors will be respected, protected and safeguarded. He also emphasised the need for vaccination. All the medical fraternity doing human service during the pandemic is celebrating July 1 as Doctors’ Day. We are so pleased that PM Modi greeted the medical fraternity for Doctors' Day."
In Delhi, Lady Hardinge Medical College organised a blood donation camp to honour the doctors. The Chhattisgarh Medical Teachers Association and Junior Doctors Association of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College also organised a blood donation camp on July 1. Some other hospitals conducted webinars.