Frontline workers in India battle risk, stress in their fight against COVID-19

Dr Aglecha

By Musheera Ashraf, 

Pointing to cases of AIIMS doctors detected corona positive, Dr Sheela Aglecha who works as a Paediatrician at Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Madhya Pradesh says the stress level of healthcare workers has doubled amid the pandemic. “The stress has doubled because every day we are listening about how healthcare workers are risking their lives. When even institutions like AIIMS are facing this, you can imagine the situation at other hospitals,” she says.

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Dr Aglecha looks after the Paediatric COVID-19 patients. The hospital has a separate paediatric COVID isolation award.

“In general ward, we don’t wear PPE. We work with masks and gloves. A patient who is suspected of COVID-19 is sent to corona wards and other patients are sent to general wards but the situation is turning worrisome now because now the patients are asymptomatic,” she said.

Dr Aglecha said the government should provide insurance and security to the health workers.

Some states have said that if after wearing the PPE’s the doctors still contract corona then it is their own responsibility but the doctors have said that they are not sure about the quality of PPEs provided to them.

“It is like sending doctors to fight in a war and then shooting them on their backs,” Dr Aglecha said.

Talking about her experience working amid the pandemic outbreak, Dr Aglecha says that some patients try to hide their travel history which itself is a challenge for the doctors. “When we get them tested based on symptoms and their reports come out to be positive it creates distress among the staff, so every patient has to be looked upon keenly,” she said.

As a prophylactic measure, every health care worker working at the forefront is recommended to take hydroxychloroquine, no matter if they are nurses, ward boys, sweepers or doctors. The ones who are treating corona patients are kept in hotels and after the completion of their duty, they are quarantined.

“The nurses and frontline workers working in general wards are at risk because they travel home every day. We don’t know who is corona positive, because the reports come 2 days later,” she said.

Varun Kumar, Male Staff Nurse

The flow of daily patients has reduced. Because of the fear of corona, many of them fear being isolated if anything related to corona is suspected.

“The patients have reduced to 50, while generally, we used to see around 200-250 patients in general OPD but the cases in NICU and deliveries are going on normal,” she says.

Another frontline worker Dr Minakshi Singh who used to work in Anatomy department in Doon Government Hospital but is now working in OPD for the screening of corona patients told that “life is difficult academically and on a personal level, patient load is heavy,” adding that, “Non-clinical staff is also being posted in OPD’s due to lack of staff.”

Dr Singh said that they are provided with new N95 masks daily and they have ample PPE kits at the hospital. “The management is quite good in Dehradun,” she said, adding, “But we don’t know which patient is corona positive so we need to be very careful. Every information has to be sent to WHO as well so there is more paperwork these days.”

Dr Singh said that the situation is unpredictable at the hospitals. “Cases are increasing and we can only hope for the best,” she adds.

Concerned with misbehaviour and harassment meted out to health care workers Dr. Aglecha says, “it is heart-breaking and the Government should work in creating awareness among people.”

“Opening alcohol shops amid lockdown was very bad and then they expect us to treat them. This is foolish if this is being done intentionally,” she said.

Ashu, who works as a staff nurse in Shaikh-Ul-Hind Medical College says that the Corona duty is comparatively hard. “We had to go without water or food for hours altogether,” he said.

Ashu said that the situation was very hard initially. “There were no ward boys or sweepers but gradually the situation got better. The administration is trying its best now,” he said.

Ashu said that healthcare workers are putting themselves under risk, “so government should be concerned about us.”

Another male staff Varun Kumar, who was previously taking care of the corona suspects in Subharti Medical College but is now working in Saharanpur, said that they are wearing 2 PPE kits to avoid contracting the virus. “Whatever the situation, we have worked with full determination and faced stigma. Our relatives don’t come near us when we return home from duty,” he said, adding, “It is time that the government works for our upliftment.”