Coronavirus: It’s imperative to keep healthcare workers safe

PT Jyothi Datta ̥Mumbai | Updated on March 10, 2020

Over-use has led to shortage of masks and sanitisers for medical staff who need it most

“Minimise, don’t compromise on the use of masks” is the key message doing the rounds among nurses and other medical staff at the frontline of delivering healthcare, especially against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

There is an over-use of masks among the public and patients, too, are asking for masks, said Rince Joseph, President of the United Nurses Association (Delhi-NCR). Governments need to plan, procure and release stocks to different healthcare institutions across the country. Else, medical staff could become the targets of angry mobs if stocks come under pressure with an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients.

As the number of those confirmed with the disease crosses one lakh worldwide and countries like Italy go under a complete lockdown, marketplaces across the world are reporting shortages of masks, sanitisers and even toilet paper.

Much of the attention has been on keeping the general public safe when, in fact, it is also critical to protect doctors, nurses, ward staff and young medical students going into the community to deliver healthcare.

Most at risk

Sujeet Rajan, a consultant respiratory physician with Bombay Hospital, observed that medical staff who work in primary care need to wear protective gear such as masks and gloves. Anyone who sees more than 100 patients a day should take precaution, he said. The general practitioner’s (GP) clinic, or primary care centres, are the early port of call for patients and that’s the time they are likely to transmit the virus, he added.

There is a need to be vigilant, he said, even though the risk of getting infected and dying are rather low. People undergoing treatment for cancer, those having compromised immunity, the elderly, people with diabetes, etc also need to take precaution, he added.

Double arm’s distance

Suranjit Chatterjee, a senior internal medicine consultant with Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, pointed out that the community, too, needs to be educated to be disciplined and exercise hygiene and cough etiquette, for instance. Healthcare professionals run the risk of infection because of the nature of their job, he said. Precaution can be taken, such as keeping a double arm’s length distance, washing hands, etc, if the patient has a history of an infection, he added.

The fear around Covid-19 is because it is little known and has no treatment, he agreed, urging the community to not be complacent. But, as a doctor, he said, his worry is also over the emerging cases of HINI (swine flu) that is just as dangerous for the elderly, for instance.

Avantika Shukla, a microbiologist and infection control specialist at Mumbai’s Thunga Hospital, advocates a good hand wash with soap and water to protect against Covid-19. There are adequate stocks of protective gear available for use by the medical fraternity, she said, urging people to not get misguided by social media messages.

Published on March 10, 2020

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