Low salaries and lack of teachers have resulted in less than the desired level of attention being paid to Community Medicine, an important subject taught to students of medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Also, the subject comes under the control of two departments.
The Institute of Community Medicine in the Madras Medical College that offers a postgraduate degree (MD) in the subject and a PG diploma in public health has only four qualified professors against the sanctioned strength of 15. MMC, the only government-run institution in the State to offer the course, admits four students every year. Two of the seats are reserved for private college students.
Trained community medicine experts develop strategies to improve public health and are involved in ensuring sanitation of the entire community. “When four people have diarrhoea, it is a medical problem but when 100 people have it, it becomes a public health issue,” explained an assistant professor in the Institute. “As we are woefully short of faculty members we cannot take more candidates,” he added. “We are not allowed to practise outside. Neither are we compensated with special allowance. The result is nobody wants to become teachers,” he said.
Considered a “rare” branch of medicine, the subject comes under the Directorate of Public Health and the Directorate of Medical Education. While the DPH absorbs diploma holders as field workers, those who have finished the PG course become teachers. As the pay anomaly for the teachers has continued for several decades, the development of prevention strategies has also suffered, a senior Health department official said. He suggests that at least 25 per cent of the salary be given as non-teaching allowance.
According to MMC Dean J. Mohanasundaram, lack of staff in non-clinical subjects is due to a sudden spurt in medical colleges in the State. But with private colleges also offering the course, the vacuum will be filled when the present batches of students graduate. V.K. Subburaj, Principal Secretary, Health, said the salary of every section of the medical field had been increased. “We cannot increase the salary for one speciality as against the other. However, we will have a discussion with them and try to sort it out,” he added.