Monday, 30th October 2017

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Health workers need protection

Insufficient gear for doctors is an acute problem

  • Published 7.04.20, 1:43 AM
  • Updated 7.04.20, 1:43 AM
  • a min read
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Medical staff of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital stage a protest over the supply of alleged low-quality of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and other medical facilities required for the treatment of coronavirus-affected patients, in Amritsar, Friday, April 3, 2020. PTI

To send soldiers into battle without armour is the mark of a heartless government. But this accusation cannot be levelled against the Indian government alone. Insufficiency of personal protective equipment for health workers is now an acute problem in numerous countries attacked by Covid-19, even in the West. The scale and suddenness of the contagion have exposed the weaknesses and complacencies in many health systems. But the Indian government cannot plead innocence. There is, reportedly, evidence of the government’s delay in ordering a ban on the export of PPE and its raw material — the World Health Organization had warned that countries were stockpiling PPE — and the production of masks, protective suits, gloves, eye shields and aprons for different segments of health workers, from doctors to sanitation workers. Today, although the Union health ministry is tight-lipped about all numbers, doctors’ associations are calculating that at least 50 doctors have been infected by the virus. Frantic pleas for adequate PPE from health workers are being heard throughout India, with reports of dangerous reuse of masks and gowns, and of raincoats and helmets as substitutes, of the authorities’ warnings in some hospitals to doctors and nurses not to turn into ‘revolutionaries’ by complaining. There seems to be — yet — no sense of what might happen if numbers of health workers, sanitation workers, ambulance workers fall ill. And how do health workers, insecure about their own safety, meet their families at the end of their day?

What is amazing is the disrespect towards those who will keep curing the sick because that is the foundation of their ethics. Indranil Khan, a doctor who tweeted about the lack of PPE, was not just questioned by the police in South 24 Parganas, but also forced to delete a statement and surrender his phone and SIM card — till the high court intervened — because he refused to declare his complaint fake. But this attitude is not of the government alone. Health workers seeking to collect samples were pelted with stones in Indore, and many nurses and medical students have been evicted from their rented accommodations. That also happened to airline workers who brought Indians home from affected countries. Most Indians have no sense of who is striving for their welfare, and at what cost to themselves. It is a truly uneducated nation.