Is This How We Treat Our Covid-19 'Soldiers'? Medics Battle Neglect, Harassment & Rape Threats

Delhi: At least 28 healthcare workers have tested positive for coronavirus across India, and many more are in quarantine as the outcry about lack of protective gears from the medical community of India grows louder.

Nurses and doctors of a few hospitals have begun protesting, while some doctors have taken the extreme step of resigning to avoid contracting the virus, despite fears of invoking the ire of hospital authorities.

According to various media reports, so far, seven doctors and one nurse in Delhi, as well as five doctors and eight nurses in Mumbai have tested positive for COVID-19.

A doctor each in Tamil Nadu, Jammu, Chandigarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, a nurse in Panchkula and a ward boy in Bihar have also contracted the deadly virus.

However, despite the rising number of healthcare professionals being affected by mostly coming in contact with COVID-19 positive patients, thousands of medical professionals in India are risking their lives every day and going to work, to treat coronavirus positive patients.

Various state governments are trying to incentivise them too. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced Rs 1 crore compensation to family members of those healthcare professionals who lose lives during this battle against this virus.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has also promised an insurance cover of Rs 50 Lakhs for the three coming months to medical professionals. Telangana is likely to make an announcement soon about providing incentives to healthcare workers, as well.

Precautionary measures to prevent medical professionals from contracting the virus, however, has been woefully lacking as doctors, and nurses complain of short supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and basic things like sanitisers, as well as handwashing liquids.

PROTESTS, RESIGNATIONS

Media reports claim that on Monday night, nurses of a hospital in Patiala protested outside their medical Superintendant's office to complain about "faulty personal protective equipment (PPE)".

They continued the protest the next day, claiming that the PPEs were only being given to staff working at the isolation ward.

Those working in the emergency units, where many patients, including coronavirus positive patients, often come by default are still not being given proper protective gears, they said.

In West Bengal too, nurses and doctors reportedly carried out protests in Howrah, and North Bengal to complain about the "low quality of PPEs".

At Howrah General Hospital, the medics complained that they do not have things as basic as sanitisers and handwashing soap/liquid, and despite the availability of beds, patients with symptoms had not been immediately transferred to the isolation ward, risking lives of many health professionals.

A TOI report also stated that at Medical College Hospital (Kolkata), and the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Beliaghata, medical professionals are being given raincoats instead of PPEs for protection.

This has irked and worried several doctors because raincoats do not offer complete coverage of the body and do not fully shield people from the virus. It is also required to discard raincoats within 4-5 hours.

On the other hand, The Indian Express quoted unnamed senior doctors of Hindu Rao Hospital in Delhi saying that as many as 10 to 12 doctors had tendered their resignations citing the reason as lack of proper protective gears.

The report also claims that several doctors have decided not to renew their contracts with the hospital. The hospital authorities, however, have rejected their resignation and threatened to take actions against them.

A doctor couple from Jharkhand, who had also resigned after they were allotted duty at the isolation ward, has been served a 24-hour ultimatum to rejoin their services.

HT reported that according to the directive of the health secretary, if they did not join back within 24 hours, FIRs would be filed against them under 'Epidemic Disease (Covid-19) Regulation 2020', as well as the Epidemic Disease Act 1897.

WHERE ARE THE PPES?

The requirement for PPEs is a crisis that the government is currently trying to solve. Although there were initial delays because materials required for PPEs could not be imported, the manufacturers have come up with alternative local materials that can be used.

Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has plans of collaborating with local manufacturers to accelerate the speed of production.

The Mint reported, "Two domestic producers are manufacturing N95 masks and supplying 50,000 of them per day. This would increase to up to 100,000 masks per day within the next week."

The report also revealed that around 12 manufacturers have cleared the quality test and can now make PPEs. They are expected to make 2.6 million PPE kits. The supply of it is likely to shoot up to 15,000 per day by next week.

However, there is an increasing sense of alarm among many in the medical community, as India hunkers down under the burden of increasing coronavirus cases.

Apart from the lack of protective gears, reports of blatant cases of discrimination, eviction, as well as an assault on a healthcare worker have surfaced in recent days, making doctors, and nurses vulnerable.

HARASSMENT, RAPE THREATS & EVICTIONS

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called these healthcare workers 'frontier soldiers' in the battle against coronavirus. Dubbed 'God's incarnation in white coats' and condemned incidents in which doctors or nurses were harassed and ordered strict actions against the harassers.

Such cases had been on the rise since the outbreak of coronavirus. In an FIR filed by a junior doctor of AIIMS, Bhubaneshwar last Sunday, she complained that her housing society's office bearer threatened her with rape if she did not vacate her flat because he was afraid that she might expose the members of the society to coronavirus.

According to TOI, a counter FIR was also filed that alleged that one of the family members of the said doctor misbehaved with a society member and that is why they were asked to vacate.

Buzzfeed also reported an incident in which a female doctor from Telangana was slapped by a police officer and physically and verbally assaulted on her way to work and picked up and taken to the police station.

It was only after another senior official saw her pleading did he let her go from the police station.

In Hyderabad, another junior doctor was attacked by the relatives of a coronavirus positive patient, after the patient passed away due to the virus.

The relatives of the deceased broke hospital property and accused the doctor of the death of the patient.

The News Minute reported that Eatala Rajender, the state health minister had condemned the issue, and said protection of doctors is of utmost importance.

Doctors of AIIMs, as well as the President of Telangana Junior Doctors Association, have written letters to Home Minister Amit Shah regarding the incident and requested him "to address the issue on an emergency basis."