Help the health workers, now | HT editorial
India cannot fight the coronavirus pandemic if its health care warriors — doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, and support staff in hospitals — are not safe. This is obvious, but needs to be reiterated because of the rapid rate at which members of the medical fraternity are getting infected. In Delhi alone, eight doctors have tested positive. In Chandigarh, two nurses and a doctor have tested positive. Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital has scaled down operations after two nurses tested positive. In Bihar’s Nalanda, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, doctors were exposed to a patient who tested positive — and developed symptoms themselves. Yet, they were told to keep working, which in turn, has potentially put all of them and the newer patients at risk.
These are just illustrative examples of a larger pattern. The implications are clear. One, this will lead to the spread of the infection — for the interaction of medical workers with each other and patients is very high in these times. Two, India already has a grave shortage of health care workers in relation to the population. An increase in cases is inevitable. This will require all available human resources — but if doctors and nurses get infected on a large scale, the opposite will happen. They will need to be quarantined and treated, depleting resources. Three, it deals a blow to the morale of the medical fraternity. There are already reports of doctors and nurses contemplating mass resignations — which authorities are in no position to accept. While this may seem irresponsible, it is important to recognise that they are individuals, with anxieties and fears, families, and want to survive. India cannot afford its health care workers to be low on motivation at a time when it needs them at their finest.
There is only one solution: Source and supply personal protective equipment (PPE) immediately. The government is aware of the challenge. On Monday, it announced its plans to ramp up manufacturing and procurement of protective gear. But on the ground, each passing day without adequate gear puts at risk the lives of doctors, medical staff, their families, and patients they are treating. This will undermine the lockdown, lead to the emergence of many more “super-spreaders” and clusters, and undermine the effort to flatten the curve with the lockdown. Empathise with the frontline workers — and act on it by giving them what they need, to save their lives and lives of citizens.