Somewhere in Minnesota, the 12th largest state of the United States that has reported 10 deaths and 576 confirmed cases of people infected by Covid-19, Dr Elvis Francois is sitting next to Dr William Robinson. Dr Elvis is singing John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’, accompanied by his colleague on the piano in The iHeartLiving Room Concert for America. The song's video has taken the Internet by storm. Seeing the duo in performance, it is impossible to imagine that they must be under immense professional stress.
Healthcare professionals worldwide have been working overtime to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Even a developed nation such as the United States has been caught in a state of unpreparedness, which has contributed to the list of challenges being faced by them.
As the number of patients and deaths soars, healthcare professionals in Donald Trump’s beleaguered country need personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves and masks desperately. Many doctors and other medical staff are being forced to wear trash bags instead of gowns and scarves instead of masks as they go about their task of attending to patients. The war against a dangerous nemesis is being fought, however, and these professionals are leading from the front.
The shortage of protective gear isn't confined to the United States. British healthcare professionals have reportedly ‘pleaded’ for more gear, saying they are feeling like ‘cannon fodder.’ In Iran, at least two dozen healthcare professionals have reportedly died.
Spain’s healthcare system’s shortcomings have been also exposed. The nation's health ministry has informed that 5400 confirmed cases are that of medical professionals. The picture is dismal in France too, with its public hospital system in Paris having close to 500 infected members. Sixty-one doctors have died in Italy, with 40 of them in Lombardy alone.
The World Health Organisation has stated that the world needs around 89 million masks and 76 million gloves every month. Producing such numbers will take far better preparedness, which means that healthcare professionals will be among the most vulnerable sections of the global population.
In India, NITI Aayog has come up with an emergency plan. It intends to address issues ranging from protective gear to manpower based on data that is available. This data shall be analysed to prepare for the next 90 days.
While we must wait for the outcomes of the exercise, the present paucity of resources for healthcare professionals is a huge worry. A Pune-based doctor (name withheld on request) cannot suppress his dissatisfaction at the state of affairs. “The speed at which the disease has spread has taken everybody by surprise, which includes the government. The availability of resources for the protection of doctors is far from adequate. Hence, chances of doctors contracting the disease are high,”he says.
He proudly adds, “However, the doctors’role during an epidemic is comparable to that of soldiers during a war. That is what we are seeing at the moment with healthcare professionals doing the best they can to deal with the threat.”
“Taking care of helpless patients is their responsibility and they are responding to the gravity of the situation with exemplary selflessness,” he adds.
Indeed, healthcare workers are aware that the chances of getting infected cannot be ruled out. The risk notwithstanding, they have been soldiering on selflessly, which was acknowledged by the grateful citizens of Spain and Italy who appeared on their balconies to cheer for them. In India, too, citizens rang bells, struck utensils and clapped to express their solidarity with healthcare workers.
Such moments, however, have been fleeting distractions at a time when anxietyrules as the disease spreads. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff worldwide have serious business in hand as they test cases with symptoms, treat those who test positive, and even try to contain the panic of those visiting them with the fear that they might have contracted the disease.
Dr Shaibal Guha, a Patna-based doctor, has had to deal with panicky patients in recent times. “Although I am not authorised to test or treat coronaviruspatients, people have come to me thinking that their common cough and cold is a symptom of the disease.” Directing the patient with probable symptoms to the authorised centres as well as convincing many others that nothing is wrong with them is a stressful exercise for healthcare professionals, even if they are not treating coronavirus cases directly.
Guha, who believes that India needs to test a lot more aggressively for genuine outcomes, shares the common concern regarding proper protective gear, “Doctors must function in a stress-free atmosphere.They must be protected with good quality gear while examining the suspicious cases of the deadly disease.”
While the world is engaged in a sleepless struggle against a mysterious new enemy, the healthcare professional working in unfavourable conditions often deserves maximum respect. As the unsung hero gives hope to the affected, it is because of him that the person who tests positive can hope to get cured someday.