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When doctors and students of Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) took to the streets to protest against the National Medical Commission Bill, it was the unpaid doctors and students from foreign countries who worked with the senior faculty attending to the needs of the patients.

The hospital emergency, out-patient clinics, and even the wards were monitored by about 60 foreign nationals, most of them from Nepal, pursuing their post graduation at AIIMS.

“We were working full shifts even during the strike. This happens every time doctors go on a strike. The resident doctors from foreign countries get a separate schedule and a notice to run the services at the hospital,” said Dr Sagar Poudel, a second-year student from Nepal in the department of community medicine at AIIMS.

AIIMS and other institutes such as the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research do not offer stipends to their foreign students.

“This is a full-time job. If we were to study in the US or any other country, we would be paid a stipend. Even Indian doctors doing their studies in Nepal get paid as much as the doctors there,” said Dr Anssr-ul Haq, another second-year student in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at AIIMS.

“My friend from Nepal who works in Safdarjung hospital across the street gets paid a stipend,” said Dr Poudel.

“These residents were a great help during the strike. They work as much as any of the resident doctors in the hospital, yet they do not get paid. The only concession may be that they do not have to pay the HRA (House Rent Allownace) for the hostel. They even have to pay ₹19,000 upfront to avail the employee’s health insurance scheme unlike the other residents who have deductions made from their stipends,” said Dr Vijay Gurjar, assistant professor in the department of geriatric medicine at AIIMS.

In 2011, the doctors had taken the matter to Delhi High Court and it ruled in their favour two years later. “AIIMS had challenged the order and taken it to a double judge bench. Fighting a legal battle can be long drawn and needs resources. We could not pursue the matter in court,” said Poudel.

However, officials from AIIMS’ administrative division refused to comment.

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