Through the COVID second wave, emergency consultant Dr B Karuppiah treated affected patients at a COVID relief camp set up by Equitas Small Finance Bank in the rural hamlet of Sivaganga. However, by the doctor’s own admission, seeing patients succumb to the pandemic has been the hardest part of the job.
“In the rural set-up here, around four or five of my own patients presented their symptoms quite late and died,” he says, “It was quite tragic. We could have saved them if they presented earlier.”
Along with other districts in rural Tamil Nadu, Sivaganga kept reporting an excess of 600 new COVID cases every day. With healthcare facilities far from ideal in the rural heartland, doctors have in the past, accounted harrowing tales of having to make do with existing infrastructure, often diagnosing illness based on symptoms alone.
However, Dr Karuppiah believes the biggest impediment to his fight against the pandemic was the lack of awareness on COVID-19. “The people lack awareness, and that is why we lost many lives,” he says, “They didn’t know what to do — if they got a sore throat or a cough, they thought it might symptoms of regular illnesses.”
The pandemic aside, the 42-year-old doctor has spent all his adult life treating patients at his hospital in Sivaganga. Unlike big-city physicians, the village doctor in Karuppiah is paid far less for his practice.
“My colleagues (in the city) mint money and I’ve been paid only about Rs 300 per patient — after accounting for injections and medical support,” he says with a smile, “But I have the satisfaction that I cure patients in villages, and that keeps me encouraged.”
If India learnt anything from the pandemic, it was the pressing need for more healthcare workers, doctors included. In this vein, some degree of criticism has been levelled over the cost of medical education in the country. However, Karuppiah feels what India needs more than low-cost education, is a better dedication from doctors-to-be.
“What we need, is dedicated students who are interested in working for patients. We need doctors; we have to save lives,” he says, “Students who want to join the medical fraternity should show some dedication, which many people lack these days.”