Swachip, DAB need not existby Shahidul Islam Chowdhury
Professor Pran Gopal Datta, vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, tells New Age
THE pro-Awami League Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad and the pro-Bangladesh Nationalist Party Doctors’ Association of Bangladesh need not exist as neither is ‘contributing anything good’ to the medical profession, says Professor Pran Gopal Datta, vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
Most of the doctors involved in these two organisations blend ‘professional politics’ with ‘partisan politics’ for ‘nothing but individual gains,’ he said in an exclusive interview with New Age on Monday.
Professor Datta, a renowned ENT specialist’ believes the government needs to streamline medical education in private medical colleges.
‘Most of these colleges do not have suitable campus with proper ambiance, faculty, library and laboratory for undergraduate medical education,’ he said. Most of these colleges do not have hospitals. How would the students become good doctors if they do not have the scope to deal with patients?’
The Institute of Postgraduate Medicine and Research, renamed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in 1998, was established in 1965, to meet the need for postgraduate medical education and research in East Pakistan. Do you believe the institution has evolved adequately in the past 47 years to meet the need of an independent country with 160 million people?
In the first place, it was a wrong concept to start a postgraduate medical research institution in an abandoned hotel [Hotel Shahbagh, once the biggest hotel in Dhaka]. There should have been a proper master plan on faculty, admissions, research facilities, related health resources and necessary infrastructure.
For example, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences was set up in New Delhi with a proper plan to meet the need for highly qualified manpower to look after the country’s expanding healthcare activities. It is now a centre of excellence with comprehensive facilities for teaching, research and patient care.
After the liberation war in 1971, Bangabandhu [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman] and the then health minister, MA Mannan [of Tangail] asked Professor Nurul Islam to find a place for a permanent campus for the IPGMR at Mohakhali. Mannan had said Savar could be a good alternative with a huge space. The suggestions were not implemented.
The IPGMR was renamed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University by an act [No. 1, 1998] of parliament. It is the first and only medical university in Bangladesh.
The present government has allocated more land adjacent to the present complex at Shahbagh. Now we have a lot of space to develop infrastructure and other facilities. Constructions of three multi-storey buildings have begun simultaneously.
Has there been any lack of policy support from successive governments?
There was in the past but the current government has started providing all-out support for the university.
One of the primary responsibilities of a university is to conduct fundamental research. Does the university conduct fundamental research?
Research is on in full swing now. There were 11 research project funded by the science and information and communication technology ministry in 2010-11. In 2011-12, the ministry has sanctioned funds for 19 research projects. The University Grants Commission has also provided funding for six research projects. Moreover, we are in the process of developing collaboration for research with two universities in Sweden and Singapore.
Treatment is not a primary responsibility of a medical university. A medical university is for medical education and research. Treatment is a by-product. However, many people could not even understand in the past that the IPGMR or the BSMMU could conduct research.
Another thing is that the university is under the health ministry. But the ministry does not have any designated fund or grant for research.
Having visited the university many foreign experts claimed that it lacked a quality library and that the shelves were full of old and backdated books and journals. Are these claims true?
The library is now perfectly all right with useful and reputed journals. We subscribe to at least one reputed journal for each department. We have also developed a digital library that has a good collection.
In the past, a good number of students from different countries would come to Dhaka for medical education. During a visit to Bhutan (for the sixteenth SAARC summit in 2010), I talked to a Bhutanese student who said he would prefer to go to Sri Lanka, which, according to his parents, provides better medical education. How would you respond to such observations?
A good number of foreign students are coming to the BSMMU. We have 40 students, out of 200, under residency programme from Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal. We used to have Malaysian students in the past; they are not coming any more.
The university is supposed to be autonomous. Is it really autonomous? Do you face any interference from any quarters, including the health ministry?
There is no interference, at least in the fields of education and research. Students are getting admission on their merit. However, we are dependent on the health ministry for finance.
Another phenomenon is that we have to entertain from ministers, MPs and senior government officials for getting patients admitted. It is a reality.
Do you have adequate number of teachers?
There are about 500 teachers for 43 departments and centres. I must say they are the best available medical teachers of the country.
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, founder of Gonoshasthaya Samajvittik Medical and Dental College, say they do not get enough medical teachers as the university does not produce enough medical teachers. Is he correct?
How many teachers can we really produce? For example, how many students can we enrol for anatomy courses? We can take six at most as we have provisions for five only.
The problem is that the government does not have any study to determine how many medical graduates we need for a certain period. The government even does not know how many medical colleges we really need.
I believe the government should reduce the number of private medical colleges. Private medical colleges are mushrooming here and there without proper supervision. Most of these colleges do not have suitable campus with proper ambiance, faculty, library and laboratory for undergraduate medical education. Most of the medical colleges do not have hospitals. How would students of these colleges become good doctors if they do not get the scope to deal with patients?
What problem do you face in running the university?
Yes, we have problems. But situations are improving. Class III and IV employees are one of the major problems. Most of them used to report for duty not before 10:00am. Now, they come more or less on time as we have provided them with staff bus. I must admit though that the nursing service has not improved that much.
Another major problem is the food budget for the patients. We could not maintain quality of food due to fund shortage.
What about medicine?
We provide medicine from our budget. However, we cannot provide expensive medicine due to shortage of fund.
Is it not possible to provide quality food and medicine if you can contain systemic corruption?
We have substantially reduced corruption. The pharmacy on the campus was rented to an individual during the previous government. He fled without paying Tk 1 crore in rent. Now the university is running the pharmacy and making profit.
Has the university taken any disciplinary action against teachers, doctors and staff for offences identified so far?
Thirty-four persons were dismissed, 26 persons were suspended and 34 persons more were either cautioned or downgraded for negligence of duty.
Are all of them Class III and IV employees?
Are there teachers and doctors?
Are most of them political victims?
I do not think so. I only look at the offence a person commits no matter what his or her political identity is. There were people who believe in the political ideology that I myself subscribe to. There were also people who belong to the opposing political ideology.
When people belonging to opposing political ideology were punished, they claim that they were political victims. On the contrary, when people belonging to my own political ideology were punished, they claim they were victims of grouping.
People’s perception is that now Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad (Swachip) controls everything in the health sector including admission to the university and health facilities at the hospital? Are under any pressure?
They cannot influence me. I can overpower them and they know it.
How do you see involvement of medical teachers and students in partisan activities on the campus?
I think students can get involved in politics which is a breeding ground for leadership. They teachers can get involved in professional politics, not in partisan politics, as I believe, human religion is the only religion and the service to humanity is the only politics for physicians.
Most of us, unfortunately, blended professional politics and partisan politics for nothing but individuals gain.
The Bangladesh Medical Association was the lone organisation of doctors when I was a student. Now there are several organizations including Swachip and DAB. None of these organizations is contributing anything good to the profession.
The BMA has been suffering from leadership crisis with the emergence of DAB and Swachip.
Do you believe Swachip and DAB should be banned?
Not ban, rather I would say these organisations do not need to exist. DAB did not participate in the last BMA elections. Had there been a panel from DAB, the BMA could get a more democratic leadership in the last elections.
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