India Needs More Doctors. But Will Kafeel Khan Be Allowed to Join the Fight Against Covid-19?


India Needs More Doctors. But Will Kafeel Khan Be Allowed to Join the Fight Against Covid-19?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as cases rise in India, the country clearly needs the support of as many doctors and medical professionals as possible. According to a team of biostatisticians, India is headed for nearly a million confirmed cases by the end of May and over 30,000 deaths. Yes, the numbers are scary and we need as many hands on board as possible. On Wednesday, NITI Aayog appealed to retired government doctors, Armed Forces Medical Services, public sector undertaking and private doctors to come forward and help in containing the pandemic. And one jailed doctor hopes to join the fight.

In a letter dated March 19, Dr Kafeel Khan, the Uttar Pradesh-based pediatrician who has been jailed under charges related to the National Security Act, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting that he be permitted to help tackle this crisis.

The tweet put out on the doctor’s handle last evening had attached with it a complete copy of the letter, in which he explains why he should be allowed to assist. “Sir, with my 20 years of experience in the medical field and more so by those 103 free medical camps I had conducted… examining over 50,000 children patients all over India, I feel I could be of some help in curtailing this disease,” the letter reads.

After noting in the start the maturity and good judgement shown by the central government, he goes on to make a few recommendations on how we can tackle the pandemic in the near future.

“I propose that we should increase rapid testing strength (1 in each district level), opening up of new ICUs (100s in each district), isolation wards (1000s in each district), extensive training of doctors/paramedics/support group including AYUSH and private sectors, curb on rumours, avoid unscientific views and mobilise all our resources as soon as possible.”

We wonder if the establishment will take note. Khan was arrested by a Special Task Force last month. He was booked in Mumbai for inflammatory statements he allegedly made at the Aligarh Muslim University, during a Citizenship Amendment Act protest in December, and was charged under the NSA in February.

Yes, the estimations of coronavirus cases are scary and we need as many hands on board as possible.

While his arrest was shrouded in controversy, this isn’t the doctor’s first stint in jail, either. Last year, he made headlines after the Allahabad High Court found that he had been made a scapegoat for a crime he had already spent eight months in prison for.

Khan was first arrested back in 2017 for the deaths of over 60 children in a Gorakhpur hospital over two days, after the facility ran out of oxygen cylinders. While he was first accused of medical negligence by the state government, a report filed by the very same state government (two years later) absolved him of any responsibility, and, in fact, went a step further and praised the way he handled the crisis.

Khan was found to have spent a good amount of his own money on sourcing 500 oxygen cylinders, flagged the lack of supplies months in advance, and wasn’t even in charge of the department where the deaths occurred. Now, as he languishes in jail for a second time, who knows how long it’ll take — if at all — before his appeals are heard. Let’s hope it’s sooner than later.