The severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for current use by doctors, nurses and frontline workers treating and taking care of COVID-19 patients is not only making the dedicated providers vulnerable to coronavirus infection —but also undermining the nation’s battle against this debilitating pandemic.
This pandemic like this one COVID 19 is adamant in showing us that a whole society approach is needed, one that does not separate private action from public response, public health policy, economic policy all are not just important but are essential and every corner from this planet is required to participate and tackle, this is a serious issue.
According to authentic sources, around 700 doctors and other hospital staff have tested positive for COVID-19, so far. This is an extremely high number, indicative of the healthcare workers’ resolve to combat the diseases, regardless of limitations or necessary precautions. This tally will likely grow if they are not provided with protective gear such as masks, gloves, goggles, and overalls—particularly in developing countries.
At present (WHO) The World Health Organization is on its top gear and on the front line of this war movie fast in this serious crisis. WHO is providing al what is required to the health care professional including the information for safety guidelines to the Government and citizen with accurate and researched information about the virus.
Reportedly, In the hospitals located in the state of India’s West Bengal, and also in many instances, in Pakistan, doctors are having to make do with raincoats instead of hazmat suits and workers are wearing plastic bags instead of gloves.
The least the central and state governments can do for them is to provide them with protective gear. The shortage of professionals in times of healthcare crisis has assumed dire proportions in the present times.
At a time when every pair of trained hands is valuable, can the smaller nations, with limited infrastructure, ill-afford to lose its doctors and other frontline workers to COVID-19?
In a rather late reaction, India’s government is now looking to import PPE from abroad.
Given the worldwide shortage of masks and gloves, this may not meet the demand at home. Efforts are on to ramp up domestic production, but it will be some time before it can be done. In this regard, some questions need to be asked of the central government.
It was only last week that India’s government had halted the export of PPE gears. Why did the government allow export of PPE and test kits when public health experts had been warning of their shortage in India itself as the country braces for a rise in COVID-19 cases? Why was the earlier and sensible decision to ban the exports reversed? Who benefited from it? Doctors on the frontline have written letters to the government and taken to social media to draw attention to the shocking state of affairs.
Instead of acting resolutely to address the issues raised, the government has silenced them. Doctors in Kashmir had recently been warned that they would face jail time of up to six months if they complain about PPE shortages. Punishing those who are caring for our health, is unconscionable.
Apart from the economic impact and the humanitarian crisis unleashed by this pandemic, the other important problem that it has given rise to, happens to be the risk it poses to frontline health workers, now often described as ‘corona warriors’.
The layperson gets the disease through fomite transmission, (where a patient touches the surface and another person comes in contact with it) or through droplet spread, where the viral load is comparatively less.
However, when a treating health care worker (HCW) gets the disease, he or she stands to get it directly from a COVID-19 patient. Here the initial viral load is so high that the severity of the disease and fatality rates are much higher than those among the general population.
There are many reasons why an HCW could get infected—lack of adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), treating undetected, asymptomatic people who may have reported for an unrelated illness and the use of equipment that is way beyond its usage limit among others.
Let us look at the number of cases in other countries (where the numbers are quite reliable) as far as HCWs go. The latest figures show that healthcare workers make up about 9 percent of Italy’s COVID-19 cases. In Spain, reports peg between 12-14 percent of infected cases as those of HCWs. They might not make up a huge chunk of the general population, but the number of cases and the fatalities among HCWs paints a grim picture.
We simply need to understand something. It’s not just HCWs, but laypeople who are or should be the frontline warriors in the fight against COVID-19. The onus is on them to avoid contracting the infection and spreading it to others.
If common people treat themselves as the frontline defense, then not only do they help themselves and others but also the health system, including HCWs, making sure that those in need actually get the treatment.
And, also the reason for a pertinent query. Why do common people need to think of HCWs not as the first line of defense, but as the last one? If any HCW gets exposed to the virus they need to be quarantined till they test negative for the disease (fourteen days). In case they are infected, in any case, they will be out of circulation for the period of time it takes for treatment. That means till they return the workforce in health units stands depleted.
For instance, an anesthetist, intensivist and ICU staff are basically irreplaceable, as these are the people who can take a sick person out of his or her deathbed. Even if there are ICUs and ventilators and patients on them, there will be no one to handle them. It is like an army, which can afford to lose an aircraft but not a pilot.
Moreover, every time an HCW gets affected, the workload on the already tired staff mounts. On top of all this, in India, we also have a special problem – handling of unruly attendees i.e. those who accompany patients. India cannot afford to let this happen especially now when we need every hand on the deck to tackle the health emergency facing us all.
An HCW is always ready to work again after the quarantine/ illness gets over. But if an infected HCW continues to work they may be the reason for the spread of the infection to other people, including their loved ones. If they happen to infect an elderly person in the family, the virus can wreak havoc in that family, both in terms of emotion and health.
What needs to be done is to get more and more personal protection kits to healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, lab technicians, housekeeping staff and those who take care of biomedical waste. This is key because there should be no fear of infection among them while working.
Let’s not take this pandemic lightly. Here is what is incumbent on each citizen: Follow practices such as social distancing, hand hygiene, staying at home; don’t hide travel history, and report to the nearest facility where a sick person can be handled in case of symptoms.
Finally, we must arrive at a cogent belief: that by practicing all this, common people automatically become frontline warriors, helping everyone in winning the war against the debilitating coronavirus. We cannot afford to overlook the fundamentals of precaution. After all, the old saying goes; Prevention is (much) better than cure!
This post was originally published on theindiaobserver.com