MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poor patients in western India were unable to access care for a fourth day as doctors at state hospitals extended a strike protesting assaults by patients' families, adding pressure to an overburdened public healthcare system.
The high court in Mumbai on Thursday ordered doctors in Maharashtra state to resume work immediately and asked the government to ensure their security, as pregnant women and kidney dialysis patients were turned away from hospitals and surgeries postponed.
Hundreds of doctors went on strike in New Delhi as well, many wearing helmets to call attention to the violent attacks.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), a lobbying group, supported the strike after dozens of attacks on doctors in recent years, some resulting in serious injuries, said IMA vice president R.V. Asokan.
"We are only asking for security in the workplace, which every worker is entitled to. Doctors are already working under tremendous stress," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
India is emerging as a medical tourism destination with modern, well-equipped hospitals offering quality care at competitive rates compared to western countries, but the country's poor depend on poorly funded state hospitals.
India spends less than 2 percent of its annual gross domestic product on healthcare, a fifth of the global average.
Attacks on doctors in recent years have been triggered by frustrations with the public healthcare system, analysts say.
State hospitals are generally overcrowded and understaffed, with filthy, outdated facilities.
The government in its National Health Policy released last week called for restructuring the public healthcare system and increasing health spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025, which is half of what the World Health Organisation recommends.
In addition, doctors are calling for more security personnel and strict enforcement of the Doctors' Protection Act, which provides up to three years' imprisonment for violence against doctors.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)