NEW DELHI: Doctors across India went on strike Tuesday over a controversial bill that would allow practitioners of alternative therapies such as homeopathy to practise as medical doctors.
More than 300,000 private and public doctors in the country of 1.25 billion cancelled all outpatient services, forcing the government to delay a planned vote on the controversial bill in parliament.
The bill proposes to reform the country’s ailing healthcare system and address a chronic shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas.
It would allow those qualified in areas such as homeopathy and ayurveda — a traditional form of Indian medicine — to practice Western medicine after completing a “bridging course” of an unspecified duration.
India has nearly 800,000 practitioners of traditional medicine who undergo rigorous training in their own fields, but are not currently allowed to prescribe drugs.
The national president of the Indian Medical Association said the move could be “disastrous” for patients.
“This bill is anti-patient, anti-doctor, irrational and unscientific,” said K K Agarwal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to promote India’s traditional therapies since his right-wing Hindu nationalist party won power in 2014, creating a dedicated ministry and successfully lobbying the UN to recognise a World Yoga Day.
India has an estimated 840,000 medical doctors — one for every 1,674 people — far fewer than the one per 1,000 people recommended by the World Health Organization.
Doctors were reportedly planning to call off their strike after parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar told the house Tuesday that the bill had been referred to a committee that would consider the doctors’ concerns.
Emergency and critical care services were unaffected by the strike.