Actions rather than thoughts

Aside from superficial displays of concern and respect, our healthcare workers require urgent Government intervention to ensure they their safety and well being

The news that the doctors and other health workers fighting COVID-19 have not been paid their salaries for several months in some places is a matter of shame. The Hon'ble Supreme Court reprimanded the Government and directed them to not suspend or file any case against those raising such issues of concern. Statements by resident doctors working in the Municipal Corporation Delhi hospitals, that as a result, they are unable to afford their day to day life are awful indeed.

Young doctors who are the frontline workers against COVID-19 and also non-COVID diseases get a limited salary. With the meagre income, they can hardly manage to make both ends meet. A resident doctor in an interview to a TV channel said that he has to pay monthly rent for his accommodation and also EMI; he is in a fix as to what he should do. In such situations where a serious health crisis abounds, if they are not paid a salary for four to five months, what more insensitivity can be expected on the part of the Government than this?

Those on contractual jobs are likely to leave the government hospitals and join the private settings, thus affecting the healthcare for the vast majority in this time of crisis. Similar reports are coming from Telangana. Unwillingly, the healthcare workers have to resort to agitation in such situation. This is happening in the present state of affairs when we are passing through a global emergency and we have already reached the fourth position in the number of cases. It is not unlikely that we may be in for a far worse situation in the long term. The situation requires constant vigil by healthcare workers.

Doctors are ethically bound to work under any circumstance but they too have some necessities for life. The above-stated situation will have a negative effect on the health outcomes for their patients. Such situations have to be dealt with serious effort through empathy, sympathy and hard work.

This is not for the first time that doctors have had to face discrimination and violence. Many COVID warriors, the doctors, nurses and others have been denied entry to their apartments at certain places. In one incident, two young female doctors were beaten by a goon just because he thought they were spreading infection. In another incident, the police beat the doctors and even broke their bones when they had an argument with the police on wearing a mask. They told the police that they have been working with PPEs on the whole day and that it is not necessary to wear a mask at all times.

There have been several incidents of violence against the doctors in the past in different parts of the country. Sometimes unscrupulous elements in the public with the backing of high powered people have misbehaved with doctors on frivolous issues. The young doctors, who are always hard-pressed because of the long working hours have been facing increasing stress in such situations. In the present COVID crisis as well, it is the young doctors who are at the receiving end even though they are future of our country's healthcare system.

There are reports that even the complaints by the doctors that they are not getting PPEs or other equipment required to care for their patients and for their own protection have earned the wrath of authorities. One such doctor, Sudhakar Rao in the state of Andhra Pradesh was suspended after he raised the issue of non-supply of required materials. Later, when he raised the issue again, he was beaten and dragged away by the police on the pretence that he was not mentally stable.

Our Prime Minister had asked the people to bang 'thalis', clap 'taalies' and to sound 'shankhs' in the honour of health care workers. In another speech after 21 days, he asked the people to light candles. Later on, he used the army to shower flowers on the hospitals. The purpose was to express gratitude to the doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff and motivate them in the fight against the COVID. Such gimmicks, however, have no meaning and are short-termed. They bear no fruit. What is needed at the ground level is an ample supply of personal protective equipment (PPEs), properly equipped hospitals, beds and a proper assessment of the situation to move ahead to take care of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other kinds of health staff are facing even greater difficulties. At many places, the nursing staff and the 'safai karamcharies' are on contractual duties with no assurance of job security. The ASHA workers to date do not have the status of the worker with benefits due to them. Similarly dismal is the condition of the 'Anganwadi' workers. Special care has to be accorded to them for their invaluable service in this crisis as well.

It is to be noted that government doctors have done their best in such a situation regardless of experience or seniority. It is however sad to find that a large number of doctors in the private sector, who are neither in the vulnerable age group nor have any co-morbid condition, closed their clinics and stopped examining patients out of fear of falling prey to COVID-19. This behaviour was unimaginable as it amounts to neglect of duty.

Doctors are trained to work in the most adverse conditions. What will happen if doctors fall prey to fear? This will enhance the panic amongst the public and delay early detection of many diseases. They could very well purchase PPEs for themselves and their staff. Some doctors have started video conferencing with their patients as well. Telemedicine can be supplementary but not an alternative to the direct examination of the patient. We still have a long way to go as the COVID Pandemic is not going to end any time soon. For this, we have to ensure that our healthcare workers get all the care and benefits that they deserve.

Views expressed are personal

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