Indian Doctors at the Vanguard of COVID-19 Fight Abroad

Steve Raymer, a Journalism faculty member at Indiana University has written this about Indian doctors: “Around 600 B.C., more than a century before the Greek physician Hippocrates became the greatest healer of his era, Indians Atreya and Susrata established medical schools in separate parts of the subcontinent. About the same time, Indian doctors developed a code of ethics that required healers to maintain patient confidentiality and lead a life dedicated to caring for the sick.”

Today, from microbiologists, to cardiologists, to intensivists, to sport medicine specialists to hospice care givers, Indian medical practitioners worldwide are working hard to fight the deadly novel coronavirus. We remember them when we thank health and social workers at 5 pm on March 22 during the nation-wide Janata Curfew.

Dr A J Mahadesh Prasad, a scientist from Arkalgud in Karnataka, is part of the Vaccine task force constituted by the European Union which been striving to develop the vaccine for over a month now, following the outbreak of COVID-19 in China’s Wuhan Province and after that its spread to other nations, especially Europe.

Dr Prasad told CSP in an interview: “I am currently involved in a  vaccine team  mainly focused on designing and testing a new vaccination for nCoV-19. Our Vaccine  is a DNA based transgenic vaccine designed to protect against two different virus at a same time. Due to its patent protection policy  I cannot disclose more on our vaccine in detail. We are very optimistic about a breakthrough in 6 months. ”

Dr Mahadesh Prasad, Senior Biochemist, working in a Vaccine Task force for nCoV in Belgium constituted by the European Union

He adds, "Including us there are few research groups/ companies around the world working tirelessly to find a solution. One has to remember a vaccine is for life long protection and hence it has to pass through many stringent tests before it reaches the market. Right now many antivirals are available in the market to treat CoVID-19, also intensive research is going on to identify new antivirals  under the repurposing scheme. (Repurposing: Testing already available antivirals/ other compounds to treat emerging sudden viruses). I strongly believe it is high time we think about our food habits. Remember all this started from a FOOD MARKET."

Dr Vishal Gupta, a cardiologist in Kalamazoo, Michigan and affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Borgess Medical Center and Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, told CSP that Indian physicians in the US are spread across all specialities, but most of them are internal medicine and critical care doctors – at the forefront of COVID-19.

Dr Vishal Gupta, Cardiologist at Kalamazoo, Michegan

Says Dr Gupta: “These two specialities along with emergency medicine doctors form the front lines for taking care of patients being admitted to hospitals. They have been working tirelessly in areas where there are clusters of COVID-19 patients and waiting in areas where there seems to be an eerie calm before the storm.”'

As a cardiologist, Dr Gupta has not been on the front line, but starts rounding service on Monday, which would mean being on the same ward and attending to patients that might have cardiac issues. Of Indian doctors he says, “Indian physicians have always put a brave front when it comes to the compassionate care of patients. It is a call of duty that drives these physicians.”

Dr Madhu Ramaswamy, an Indian Intensivist is a Critical Care Physician at Inova Health System and has studied Critical care medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

Dr Madhu Ramaswamy, Intensivist at Washington, D.C.

Dr Madhu says, “We Intensivists know that this is the calm before the storm. We are praying that this category 5 hurricane changes its course before making landfall. In a video, listening to Intensivist colleagues from Bergamo- the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in Northern Italy, I fear what is likely to hit ICUs across the US in the next weeks. ‘We realize we are not enough’, ‘We have seen nothing like this’ - I don't like hearing these words from experienced Intensivists.”

Requiring special attention at this point are the nearly 2 million Americans today who are terminally ill and in hospice care. Balu Natarajan, MD Chief Medical Officer, Season’s Healthcare Management Inc which serves patients at two Connecticut-based facilities in Bloomfield and Middlebury, as well as across 20 states, says “The folks we are taking care are dying so they really need their caregivers to get to them. In many cases they need their loved ones to get to them too. We have spent a lot of energy blocking and tackling, so that our people can get to the folks who need us. But we have also spent time figuring out how loved ones can get to our patients as well – either in person or virtually.”

Dr Balu Natarajan, Chief Medical Officer, Season's Healthcare Management Inc 

Especially during these extraordinary times, as the world deals with COVID-19, the contribution of Indian doctors in America cannot be underestimated, Dr Nitesh Jain, a pulmonologist who practices in Minnesota, told the American Bazaar. “The entire medical workforce in America is currently on an emergency mode and is required to be alert and available never mind their personal schedules,” he said.

Founded in 1982, the vision of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin which represents a conglomeration of more than 80,000 practicing physicians in the United States is to “bring American medicine the distinctive contributions from India.”

AAPI has established free walk-in clinics in the past across the US to treat senior citizens and patients who are indigent, lacking health insurance, or unable to see a physician during normal clinic hours. "This country has been very nice to us," says the AAPI's Lakhanpal. "The weekend clinics are sort of our way of giving back to community."

Steve Raymer says: “Today Indian doctors have become a powerful influence in medicine across the world - from North America and Great Britain to East Africa, Malaysia, and Singapore. Nowhere is their authority more keenly felt than in the United States, where Indians make up the largest non-Caucasian segment of the American medical community. Indian doctors have found a home in the medical marketplace, where they are a mainstay in primary patient care in urban and rural areas. Numbering over 38,000, physicians of Indian origin account for one in every 20 doctors practicing medicine in the US. Another 12,000 Indians and Indian-Americans are medical students and residents - doctors in specialty training - in teaching hospitals across the country. And Indians make up roughly 20 percent of the ‘International Medical Graduates’ - or foreign-trained doctors - operating in the US.”

In the wake of COVID-19, a few days ago the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) wrote to England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Chris Whitty to express solidarity during the Coronavirus pandemic crisis and said that Indian doctors stand “shoulder to shoulder” alongside other frontline healthcare workers.

BAPIO, which represents nearly 60,000 Indian-origin doctors working within the NHS, also reiterated its earlier request for all frontline medical staff to be tested on a priority basis so that they can continue with their work of saving lives. "BAPIO believes that the symptomatic frontline workers and their family members should be tested. This would help in identifying negative cases thus enabling the frontline staff to return to their duties and support their colleagues," the letter added.

The association, headed by President Ramesh Mehta, also offered the CMO the support of a BAPIO-supported independent think tank, Our NHS Our Concern, with an Emergency Department model to look at solutions and an innovative approach to tackling health crises. It came as an Indian-origin general practitioner (GP), Saumya Jha, who is self-isolating after developing symptoms of COVID-19, made an online appeal for such GPs in the UK be able to work remotely. She said she felt "fit enough" to talk to patients over the phone and triage from home and called on the government to consider those options, says a PTI report.

World’s largest source of Immigrant physicians

The Immigration Policy Institute in a report in January 2020, said that India has been the world’s largest source for immigrant physicians since the country gained independence in 1947.

“Around 69,000 Indian-trained physicians worked in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in 2017, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is equivalent to 6.6 percent of the number of doctors registered with the Medical Council of India (MCI). The country, which boasts the world’s highest number of medical schools, also has become a leading source for nurses (typically trailing only the Philippines). Nearly 56,000 Indian-trained nurses work in the same four countries, equal to about 3 percent of the registered nurses in India. The allure of working abroad is strong for both physicians and nurses; researchers estimate anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of Indian health-care workers intend on seeking employment overseas for a range of reasons.”

The report by Margaret Walton-Roberts and S. Irudaya Rajan says: “Several countries have encouraged Indian health-worker migration in recent years. In the United Kingdom, for example, a fast-tracked visa for medical professionals was announced in November 2019. The visa would aim to address shortages in the country’s National Health Service (NHS). More than 15,000 doctors in the NHS as of 2017 had received their primary medical qualification in India, and Indians represented the top non-British nationality for NHS staff as of early 2019.”

These figures are only going to increase in the years to come and it is hoped that host nations support Indian doctors as they work with integrity and as is said in India’s ancient texts ‘be known as the saviour of life and destroyer of disease…’