From the Viewsroom

When duty calls

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on February 17, 2020

Coronavirus outbreak reveals the risks of being on the medical frontline

The risk that health workers and medical staff face in the line of duty has been more than brought home in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Last week, reports from China said that six health workers had died and over 1,700 were infected as a result of the virus. Heart-tugging images from China showed medical staff in their protective gear sending ‘air-hugs’ to their children and loved ones, as the transmissible nature of the virus prevented them from going home like they would have on a normal day. And lest we forget the brave doctor Li Wenliang, who alerted fellow doctors on the suspicious virus infection in December. The young doctor was rapped by authorities on what was then seen as fear-mongering. But his sentinel early warning is now being hailed after he died earlier this month.

The ongoing crisis overwhelming healthcare systems in China is resulting in medical staff and health workers reportedly working round-the-clock to contain the spread of the virus, manage those infected by it and deal with the rising death toll.

Such a fallout may be extraordinary, as is also witnessed when entire hospitals are bombed in areas like Syria or Afghanistan and medical staff are caught in the crossfire. Closer home, when the Nipah virus was reported in Kerala, the death of a young nurse brought some attention to the risks faced by medical responders.

Away from the public gaze, though, medical staff and health workers say that risk from exposure to an illness is an occupational hazard, despite the best precautionary measures. They recount incidents of skipping meals and inadequate rest while handling patients on a routine day. Work days normally result in exhaustion and illness. But barely anyone gets to know when a doctor or paramedic catches an illness from the environment they work in, reveal the health workers — a harsh reality for many on the medical frontline.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on February 17, 2020

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