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Beyond their call of duty: Doctors who are tending to protesting farmers

By Anvit Srivastava and Kainat Sarfaraz, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON DEC 04, 2020 05:59 PM IST

A group of four doctors — all private practitioners — have set up a medical camp at the Singhu Border, where thousands of farmers have gathered since Friday to protest against the new farm laws passed by the Central government.

The group said at least 1,000 farmers visit them daily, majority of them with complaints of hypertension or asthma due to continuous sloganeering and active participation in the protest.

While cough and cold, diarrhoea or digestive issues have been the most reported ailments, at least two farmers have had to be referred to Civil Hospital in Sonepat with more serious complications — one of them having suffered a mild cardiac arrest.

The medical camp is self-funded by a group of doctors from Delhi and Haryana, all of them MBBS, including one surgeon. Sukhwinder Singh, an MBBS from a government medical college in Rajasthan, who is one of the medical practitioners at the camp, said they at present have four doctors, who are running the camp with the help of around six paramedical staff, who have chipped in since Sunday — two days after the farmers started camping at Singhu border.

“I belong to Sirsa in Haryana. My grandfather is also a farmer and he inspired me to pitch in and we together formed a group and came to Singhu border with whatever basic equipment and medicines we could gather. We are all private practitioners and have no affiliation with any hospital or organisation,” Singh said.

He added that in the past three days (since Sunday) they’ve attended to at least 1,000 farmers daily — most of who suffered from complaints of high blood pressure, irregular breathing, hypertension, digestive problems or basic cough and cold. “The number of patients is high because we advertised about our camp in the area by distributing pamphlets and posters. So even local residents are visiting us for medical advice, the doctor said.

“At least 30% of all our cases were those of hypertension and irregular blood pressure. This was mainly because the majority of participants are elderly farmers and continuous sloganeering leaves them exhausted. The first day, we also had patients who suffered lacerations due to clashes that broke out here. We advised them medication and asked them to come for follow ups,” he said.

Other doctors who are running the medical camp are Ramanjeet Singh, CS Warring (a surgeon) and Parmeshwar Siddhu.

Sixty-two-year-old Kulwant Singh, from Moga in Punjab, who saw a doctor at the camp on Tuesday, said since Friday, after the police fired tear gas shells, he is having irritation in his eyes and problems in breathing. “They checked my oxygen levels and blood pressure. They’ve advised me medication and have asked me to come back. It’s a free of cost service and very helpful for elderly farmers like us,” Singh said.

Another farmer, Parmjeet Singh, 55, from Amritsar, said many of them have forgotten their medicines back home before joining the protests. “Many suffer from diabetes or other ailments for which they need regular medication. The camp has provided us with our routine medical care free of charge, “ he said.

The doctors said keeping in mind the high number of patients approaching them, they are now planning to expand the camp and call on more doctors to pitch in.

COVID CONCERN

The doctors running the camp said that they are also mindful of Covid-19 patients as the protesters were not adhering completely to social distancing norms. One advice that they have been doling out to their patients is always wearing a face mask. “We also check them for Covid-19 symptoms. We are in touch with hospitals and if required any patient who show symptoms of Covid will be sent there,” the doctors said.

Teams from Red Cross Society and National Health Mission are also present at Singhu border.

An emergency medical technician, from the national health mission, Sonepat, that falls under the Union ministry of health, said they have made arrangements of ambulances at the spot. “On Friday, we had to rush a 47-year-old to Sonepat Civil Hospital. It was a case of a mild heart attack. He is okay now. Most of the passengers I have ferried had complained of vomiting, fever, cold or breathlessness. Teams from Red Cross Society are also keeping an eye on the crowds here,” the technician said, wishing not to be named.

Harjit Singh Bhatti, former president of AIIMS residents doctor association, said a team of five has also set up a medical camp at the Tikri border protest site, with the help of doctors from AIIMS, Safdarjung, and Hindu Rao hospital. He also has set up a camp at Singhu border.

“Many protesters ask for painkillers. Since a large number of protesters are elderly, there is a chance that they are diabetic or have hypertension, which can lead to cardiac events due to severe fluctuation of their blood pressure. Due to stress and other factors, they can’t take medicines on time which can become a cause of worry. Most of these farmers sleep in the open at night leading to high-grade fever as well,” he said.

With pressing cold wave conditions setting in on the national capital, the farmers, on their part, have also taken several measures to protect themselves against the harsh winter.

Hundreds of tractor trollies and SUVs stationed on the Kundli highway are lined with multiple tarpaulin sheets to fend off the chilly winds. The insides of these vehicles are lined with hay and blankets to keep the protesters warm during cold Delhi nights. The minimum temperature on Tuesday stood at 8.1 degree Celsius -- two notches below normal.

While a section of elderly protesters sleep inside these vehicles, they are not enough to accommodate all protesters leaving many with no option but to camp out on the roads in the open.

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