‘They treated despite risks': Kin of doctors who died of COVID-19 wait for compensation

Last year, the Union government promised Rs 50 lakh as insurance for doctors who die due to COVID-19.
A patient who died due to COVID-19 is being buried by frontline workers
A patient who died due to COVID-19 is being buried by frontline workers
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Even after his retirement age, doctor K Balasubramanian continued to be a household name among the residents of Kilpauk in Chennai due to his expertise as a general practitioner. Several patients line up at his home and clinic every day for consultations. Despite the hurdles of a pandemic, the 70-year-old doctor continued seeing patients while following the COVID-19 norms, until he tested positive for coronavirus in June 2020. He was immediately admitted to Apollo Hospital in Vanagaram for almost 10 days but Dr Balasubramanian breathed his last on June 11 that year.

Last year, through the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), the Union government had promised up to Rs 50 lakh insurance to the families of the healthcare workers who contract COVID-19 while treating patients and die as a result. The Tamil Nadu government had also promised Rs 25 lakh to the kin of the patients who die due to coronavirus. But, it is over 10 months since Dr Balasubramanian’s death due to COVID-19, and his son continues to run from pillar to post to receive the compensation announced by the state and Union government. 

It is just not Dr Balasubramanian. Since last year, the Indian Medical Association (IMA), a national voluntary organisation of doctors from the modern scientific system, has been submitting the names of doctors who died in the line of COVID-19 duty to the Union government. Each time, the list would contain 10 to 20 names of deceased doctors. So far, the list has the names of 756 doctors across the country, who died due to coronavirus and are eligible for compensation. 

However, the union government has disbursed the compensation only to the kin of 168 deceased doctors, alleged IMA. Till date, the remaining over 600 doctors have not allegedly received even half the sum as promised by the government. The families are forced to submit several reports to prove the death due to COVID-19. 

In Tamil Nadu, around 68 doctors have passed away due to COVID-19. Though the state promised them Rs 25 lakhs, no one has recieved it, according to IMA Tamil Nadu. They also told TNM that no one of the doctor families from Tamil Nadu recieved the compensation from centre too.

Kerala has seen lesser number of deaths, but of the 9 doctors who died, only one doctor recieved compensation from the state, while others have recieved no amount from the centre or state. "All doctors who are members of IMA have donated one day salary towards a fund for these families, that's the only help for most as of now," Kerala IMA President PT Zacharias told TNM.

Fight for compensation

In June, a few days after Dr Balasubramanian’s demise, his family traced his contact and found that one of the patients who came to him for diagnosis tested positive for the virus later. The patient, too, succumbed to COVID-19. Susikar, Dr Balasubramanian’s son, said, “We submitted all the required documents to the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Service to show his diagnoses and prove that he died due to COVID-19. We submitted all the reports by October 2021. However, we are still waiting for the compensation.”

The family submitted Dr Balasubramanian’s prescription to his patient (primary contact) on May 20, the report showing the doctor was positive for coronavirus, his patient’s COVID-19 and death report, and a cover letter from the patient’s family regarding the consultation with Dr Balasubramanian, among others.

Dr Balasubramanian

“Even when coronavirus was at a peak, my dad faced several hurdles and he was treating everyone who came to him, especially if there was an emergency. He always told us that he cannot die without serving his duty. Now, he is gone but still, the government is not giving him the due recognition for his sacrifice,” he said.

The agony of Dr Vani, who lost her husband, Dr Shyam Sundar, to COVID-19, is no different. She expressed her agony towards the apathy of the government in distributing the insurance sum. “My husband died on July 29, 2020, and I had submitted all documents to the Directorate of Medical Examination. However, the help has not reached us yet. The money will not be a complete compensation but at least in my old age, it will give us some psychological strength to move on. But we have not received the amount and the plights of the families of deceased government doctors are even worse,” said the gynaecologist, who works at a private clinic in Chennai. 

Dr Shyam Sundar, a 68-year-old ENT specialist at the private clinic, had visited a patient to diagnose a lump in his throat, despite knowing that the latter had COVID-19. Dressed in a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit, Dr Shyam Sundar was asked to check if the COVID-19 patient’s lump was cancerous. He examined and gave the report. However, a few days later, the doctor started developing symptoms. He passed away 20 days later due to COVID-19 and a sudden cardiac arrest.

“Even after the shock of his sudden death, I am still working, since we are meant to do service for the people. So, the least that the government can do is to take note of this and distribute the insurance sum, at least in installments,” said Dr Vani.

'Assistance is honouring them'

Incidentally, at a time when India is witnessing the second wave of the pandemic, the Union government recently decided to cancel the existing insurance scheme and claimed that a new scheme is being chalked out as the government is holding discussions with a new insurance company.

Speaking to TNM, Dr JA Jayalal, national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “The government has betrayed the medical fraternity. We do not even want this to be an insurance scheme and the money should be handed over by the government itself.” 

He added, “The assistance is an honour for the deceased doctors for their sacrifice in the field. So we do not want this to even be an insurance scheme.”

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