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India doctors call off strike after government pledges better security
[KOLKATA] Doctors in India's West Bengal state on Monday called off a week-long strike after authorities promised better workplace security in the wake of violent attacks that had prompted a nationwide day of action.
Tens of thousands of Indian doctors had walked off the job earlier in the day in solidarity with their colleagues in the eastern state after three were viciously attacked there by relatives of a man who died.
Doctors had gone on strike a week ago in West Bengal, crippling medical services for the state's 90 million people, when a family assaulted three doctors at a state-run hospital.
They blamed the doctors for their relative's death during treatment. Two of the staff members were critically injured. Five people have been arrested in connection with the attack.
The incident sparked calls for overhauling the laws dealing with workplace security at hospitals, and prompted Monday's nationwide walkout, which did not include emergency services.
After a meeting late Monday with the state's chief minister Mamata Banerjee in the state capital Kolkata, who offered reassurances that security would be beefed up, the doctors suspended their strike.
"We have decided to call off our agitation temporarily," a representative of the doctors told reporters after the meeting. "We are requesting our colleagues to resume work."
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), representing 350,000 of India's 900,000 doctors, has called for tougher punishments for those assaulting medical staff.
Blaming the attacks in part on "high expectations" by patients, poor infrastructure and inadequate staffing, the IMA said hospitals should have more security cameras and that the entry of visitors to hospitals should be restricted.
It called for the federal health ministry to intervene, as India's lower house of parliament convened for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected in a landslide last month.
The country's health minister has urged federal lawmakers to expedite a pending bill to revamp health care regulations.
India spends less than two per cent of its GDP on health care, making it one of the lowest investors in the sector globally, with the World Health Organization placing it below both Iraq and Venezuela.
However, Modicare - a quietly successful part of Mr Modi's surprising re-election - is a huge public health initiative set to benefit the poorest.