Working in close proximity to one another, as close as one-to-two feet from infected patients, Health Care workers expose themselves to great danger several times a day(Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)
Working in close proximity to one another, as close as one-to-two feet from infected patients, Health Care workers expose themselves to great danger several times a day(Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)

Health care professionals are heroes. Honour them| Analysis

Every day, they are risking their lives. Yet, society is treating them unfairly. It’s time to recognise their service
By Shiv Kumar Sarin
UPDATED ON APR 16, 2020 06:06 PM IST

Across the world, the fight against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is on. And this fight, against an invisible, fast-moving enemy, has shaken up health systems. From world leaders to the common citizens, from dignitaries to the affected patients, there is a string of commonality in our response to this pandemic — that the well-being of all people depends on the timely advice and care of physicians. Health care professionals (HCPs) are indispensable in this battle.

The pandemic has proved to be a great leveller. It has set HCPs apart in their selfless service to others. But despite this, 15,000 health workers in Spain are now ill or self-isolating, making up 14% of its confirmed cases, according to their health ministry. In Italy, the figure is just below 10%. At least 5,400 nurses, doctors, and other health care workers in the United States have been reported to have contracted the virus, and dozens have died, according to BuzzFeed, a news website. The numbers are likely to be much higher. Doctors have been sharing images of colleagues using disposable raincoats, garbage bags, and other improvised materials to protect themselves, as hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude.

The lack of personal protective equipment for HCPs is a huge chink in the armour. HCPs, working in close proximity to one another, as close as one-to-two feet from infected patients, expose themselves to great danger several times a day. The more competent and skilled they are, the greater the risks they have to take. They are at the frontlines every day, risking their lives to protect the lives of others.

So, how has society rewarded HCPs during this time? In several places, they face an awful reality — they have been assaulted, locked out of their homes and their families shunned. People forget that the role of HCPs cannot be substituted. And despite taking every precaution to safeguard their patients at huge personal risk, people are turning their backs on them. They deserve praise and gratitude, not ostracisation. They deserve to be put on a pedestal by society.

In conventional wars, those who lay down their lives or are gravely injured in battle are remembered and revered by their nation. They are decorated, called martyrs, and are considered national heroes. War memorials are erected in their honour, and gallantry awards are handed to them. These tributes don’t just recognise their brave service to the nation, but boost the morale of the forces, and heal the wounds of the families they have left behind. They are also given compensation in the form of land, small businesses and jobs for their next of kin.

Doctors, nurses and paramedics are soldiers in a different uniform. Every day, they go into enemy territory to take care of those showing symptoms of the virus or those who have already been infected. They come in contact with them physically, to take throat swabs, administer medication intravenously, and insert catheters. They have to come in contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients, putting themselves at risk. They have to bear the trauma of seeing patients die, despite their best efforts, and suffer exhaustion from long hours of work.

As the number of infected rises substantially every day, HCPs across the world have put aside their fears and worries, and boldly risen to the challenge. They have taken the virus head-on. They require much more than sops such as extending their health cover or a few words of praise. Some states have doubled the remuneration of the HCPs for a few months. Others have announced sizeable compensation for the loss of life. But HCPs deserve more — especially more recognition as the front-runners of this battle, standing between life and death, working towards the betterment of the infected.

There are several ways to show them that we, as a society, care and acknowledge their efforts. Each state should list the HCPs who are working in the Covid-19 intensive care units and isolation wards. Recognise their acts of selfless service and devotion, and acknowledge their service publicly in the media by offering Devatulya Abhinandan (Godlike greetings). It would be a lasting tribute to HCPs that even after the pandemic ceases to threaten us, their contributions are etched in gold on the gates of a temple garden. Such Devatulya temple gardens should be set up in every state. They should be our new temples, our new prayer spots. Of course, Devatulya Puraskars, awards, given with discretion and without bias, should match the recognition and respect accorded to the Paramveer Chakra or Surya Chakra.

Today, they fight a difficult, unprecedented crisis. We should reward them for their work while they continue to do it. While we practise social distancing, sit at home and do what we can in our capacities, they wake up every day to treat the infected. They are our only hope at this time, and we must never forget that.

Shiv Kumar Sarin is director, Institute of Liver & Biliary Sciences
The views expressed are persona
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