Covid-19: As list of ‘fallen heroes’grows, efforts on to keep others safe

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on March 31, 2020 Published on March 31, 2020

Measures must be taken to prevent hospitals from getting over-crowded and spreading cross-infection, say experts   -  Nagara Gopal

‘Healthcare workers risking their lives due to shortage of protective gear’

“Fallen Coronavirus Heroes”, is how the medical fraternity remembers fellow healthcare workers who have died of the virus. A list doing the rounds among doctors worldwide puts the number at about 120, of which 61 are from Italy alone.

Healthcare workers (HCWs) around the world are treating people with the coronavirus, despite the shortage of masks, gloves and personal protective equipments (PPE). And for that very reason, they are being applauded, be it in New York, Italy or other parts of the world where the healthcare systems are being put through the stress test.

Besides doctors, nurses, para-medics, interns, ward boys, cleaners etc are among the many who are at high risk as they need greater protection, say members of the medical and nursing fraternity.

In China, 3.8 per cent doctors tested positive for Covid-19 and 0.3 per cent died, said KK Aggarwal, President of the Confederation of Medical Associations of Asia and Oceania, adding that the number would be more in Italy. “All over the world doctors are working and risking their lives despite the shortage of personal protection equipment,” he said.

Quarantine the infected

HCWs bear the brunt of the problem in India, he said, because of limited “duty rooms” for doctors to change, intermingling of medical staff and the careless handling of protective gear. Doctors are being forced to report for duty and wear “raincoats” as protective gear, he alleged.

Suggesting measures to streamline infected patients and protect doctors, Aggarwal told BusinessLine that all patients with coronavirus were not required to be hospitalised. They can be directly taken to hotels that are used as quarantine centres, he said. A team of doctors and nurses at the reception can treat them and offer them food etc. They can also be supported through tele-medicine or remote medical consultations, Aggarwal added. “Only those requiring oxygen and the still smaller percentage needing ventilation need to be brought to the hospital,” he said. Such measures would not just prevent hospitals from getting over-crowded, but also keep doctors and nurses restricted to patients they are treating, to prevent cross infection.

Only Singapore is able to keep HCWs safe as the hospitals have a system where the air is refreshed every 10 minutes, a feature present in the operation theatres of regular hospitals, he explained. Other methods being adopted in countries to keep healthcare workers safe, he said, was by getting the younger staff or women to treat serious patients, as they were less likely to get infected.

Gripped with fear

Till such measures are adopted, people are under constant fear. Rince Joseph, National Working President of the United Nurses Association alleged that some nurses in private institutions had been told that they were free to leave the job, if they were unwilling to work without protective equipment. “This is creating enormous mental stress and distress,” he said.

And as the toll increases with every passing day, doctors and healthcare workers are caught between “the devil and the deep sea on the one side, and ethics and the law on the other, and the fear for life due to want of PPE,” said Ravi Wankhedkar, former head of the Indian Medical Association.

Published on March 31, 2020

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