Monday, 30th October 2017

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Docs need gear

A Twitter campaign sends a searing message

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 4.04.20, 5:12 AM
  • Updated 4.04.20, 5:12 AM
  • 3 mins read
Health minister Harsh Vardhan visits a hospital in New Delhi on Friday. While the minister appears to be wearing an N95 mask, some of the others in the picture are not. (PTI picture)

DocsNeedGear — a campaign on Twitter on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Indians to light torches for nine minutes against Covid-19 on Sunday — tried to drive home the message that doctors fighting the coronavirus pandemic needed protection.

“We won’t be safe if our doctors are not safe. Remember everyone,” said a tweet under #DocsNeedGear on Friday.

Several Twitter users posted news reports and statistics on the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare staff.

Dr Harjit Bhatti, national president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, told The Telegraph the campaign was a response to letters and videos from healthcare staff across India voicing fears of contracting the virus while treating patients.

“More than 50 doctors alone have reportedly been infected. These include several who were not treating coronavirus patients. Hospitals are giving personal protection equipment only to staff in corona(virus) wards. Others who may be involved in screening or are simply working in facilities where they are exposed to heavy viral loads from patients do not have PPEs,” Dr Bhatti said.

“Because of this heavy viral load, out of every 100 medical personnel who are affected, 15 become critically ill,” he said. He said the corresponding figure for the general public was “5 per cent”.

An appeal from the Resident Doctors’ Association at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, asking for 50,000 PPE kits, 50,000 N95 masks, 300,000 triple-layer masks and 10,000 bottles (500ml) of hand sanitisers has been circulated on Twitter.

The hospital, a nodal centre for the treatment of Covid-19 in Delhi, has 500 faculty members, 1,700 resident doctors and 2,000 nursing staff, the appeal said.

An accompanying tweet asked: “What are PM funds for if not this?”

The hashtag #DocsNeedGear was among the top trends on Twitter in India, pointing to the mounting concern in the country about the conditions in which doctors and nurses are working and the impact this might have on the battle against Covid-19. There have been news reports about doctors using raincoats for protection against the virus while they wait for the protective gear.

The Centre has said it has placed orders for PPEs and is supplying these to the states according to their needs.

The Prime Minister’s video message to the nation on Friday morning made no mention of the healthcare workers and the challenges they were facing, although it did acknowledge the ringing of bells, clanging of plates and clapping of hands by Indians on March 22, conducted in response to his call to do so, as a show of gratitude to medical staff.

“Clap your hands, bang bartans, light candles and torches but remember doctors, nurses & medical staff need gloves, masks, gear and a government that delivers these. Pls ask our govt to make sure medical personnel in India are protected. RT and share max using #DocsNeedGear,” actress Swara Bhasker tweeted.

Rights activist Umar Khalid wrote that according to a government report, India has “one allopathic doctor for every 10,926 people against the WHO’s recommended ratio of 1:1000”.

“It will get worse if doctors start contracting the virus coz of lack of protective gear. Save our frontliners!” he tweeted.

Dr Bhatti, in a post accompanied with photographs, wrote: “NDMC Mayor Avtar Singh Ji visited Hindu Rao Hospital, Delhi & only he is wearing recommended N95 mask, rest all accompanying healthcare workers are wearing normal surgical mask. We request minister sahab to arrange N95 for doctors too as their lives also matter.”

Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani referred to the Prime Minister’s call to spread light for nine minutes.

“Total expenditure by around 33.5cr households in India for lighting on average at least one diya and one candle would be at least Rs 670cr. I am requesting PM Modi to allocate at least Rs 670cr for immediately buying PPE kits for health staff and sanitation staff.”

Dr Bhatti cited the example of France, saying perfume factories there had changed their production lines to make sterilisers and that car factories were making ventilators.

“We need the government, companies and the public to come together to make healthcare a reality for everyone. Sadly, most Indian companies are merely donating from their Corporate Social Responsibility fund, which they are mandated to. Right now we need the entire focus to be on healthcare. Channel industrial output to meet the need,” he said.