Men wearing protective masks in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area. | Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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About 33% of Muslims in India said that they have experienced discrimination on the basis of their religion in hospitals, a survey by NGO Oxfam India has found. A total of 3,890 people from 28 states and five Union Territories took part in the survey, the findings of which were released on Tuesday.

The survey also found that 22% of respondents from Scheduled Tribes, 21% from Scheduled Castes and 15% from Other Backward Classes reported having experienced discrimination in hospitals.

The survey sought to assess the extent to which the Charter of Patients’ Rights, prepared by the National Human Rights Commission in 2018, was being implemented. Data for the survey was collected from February to April 2021.

In June 2019, the Union health secretary wrote to all states and Union Territories, urging them to implement the charter.

Speaking to Scroll.in, Anjela Taneja, Inequality, Health and Education lead at Oxfam India, remarked that medical practitioners imbibe the same biases as the rest of society, and that these biases sometimes reflect in the ways in which they engage with patients.

“Untouchability is still real, and so, doctors may sometimes be reluctant to hold a Dalit person’s hand to check their pulse,” Taneja, who led the survey team, noted. “Similarly, doctors may be reluctant to explain the nature of diseases and treatments to Adivasis, believing that they are not likely to understand the information.”

Taneja also spoke about campaigns targeting Muslims after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. “A particular community was vilified at the time, which was grossly unfair,” she said.

The Tablighi Jamaat congregation was blamed for thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the lockdown in March 2020. The event had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech.

Other violations

Oxfam India’s survey also found that 35% of women had to undergo a physical examination by a male doctor without another female person present in the room. The charter requires the hospital management to ensure the presence of another female person in the room at such times.

A total of 74% of the respondents said that doctors wrote prescriptions or asked them to get tests done without explaining the nature of their illness to them.

Further, 19% of the respondents whose close relatives were hospitalised stated that the hospitals had refused to release their relatives’ body to them, in contravention to the Charter of Patients’ Rights. On May 14, amid the second wave of the coronavirus, the National Human Rights Commission issued an advisory reiterating that hospitals cannot refuse to hand over dead bodies on account of pending bill payments.

Oxfam India, in its report, recommended that the Union health ministry should set up a mechanism to review the status of adoption of the charter in all states and Union Territories. It also urged the Union health ministry to include the Charter of Patients’ Rights in the Clinical Establishment Act, noting that the law “offers the most robust existing mechanism for regulation of private healthcare systems”.

“There must also be a proper grievance redressal mechanism to deal with violations of the charter,” Taneja said. “At present, while people can approach the police and the courts in this regard, it is time-consuming and expensive.”

The NGO also recommended that the National Medical Commission should introduce mandatory modules on the rights of patients in the healthcare curriculum.

Covid-19 vaccination

The NGO on Tuesday also released a survey on various aspects of people’s experiences with the Covid-19 vaccination process. As per the report, 29% of the respondents had to make multiple visits to the vaccination centre or had to stand in long queues.

Further, 22% of the persons interviewed said that they faced challenges in booking a slot for vaccination online, or that they had to try to get a slot for multiple days.

The survey also found that 12% of people who earned less than Rs 10,000 per month had not received even a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The corresponding figure for those who earned more than Rs 60,000 per month was 5%.

This story first appeared on scroll.in