Covid-19 outbreak: Distressed corona healthcare warriors in India call for respect
Despite working non-stop, without thinking about their own families, the front line health workers continue to face stigma for doing their job
New Delhi: With novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases growing rapidly in India, overburdened doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel at the frontline are facing immense pressure from the society at large. While fighting against the deadly virus, they are continuously facing threats and abuses from the society, affecting their mental health as they battle it out in the ICUs as well as inside the corona patients wards.
According to Sujith, Chief of Nursing Services, Columbia Asia Hospital in Pune, it is disheartening to see that people, for whom the fraternity has been taking so much risk to ensure their health and safety, have failed them.
"This is sad when we watch on television that healthcare workers have been facing threats, attacks and abuses as we work on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been observed that many of these attacks are allegedly sparked by the fear that healthcare workers are exposing others to the virus. We are really going through a stressful time," Sujith told IANS.
The frontline health workers want a little sympathy and respect as they are working non-stop, without thinking about their own families and lives.
Dr Sachin Nayak working at JP Hospital in Bhopal has been living in his car to prevent passing on the virus to anyone else, including his wife and child. He has stocked up daily use items and books in the car.
"We completely understand public health emergencies are stressful times for people and communities but that doesn't mean we should be at the receiving end," said Sujith.
On Wednesday, a mob tried to stop a medical team from taking a coronavirus-infected man into isolation. They hurled stones at an ambulance that left four injured.
The incident took place in Uttar Pradesh's Nawabpura area. The injured included one doctor and three paramedics. A police vehicle was also damaged.
After the attacks on doctors, the Union Home Ministry said that it is ascertaining cases of violence against healthcare workers engaged in surveillance and quarantine measures.
Health workers on the streets of Mumbai. Pic: Ashish Raje
Savitha Kuttan, CEO of Omnicuris, an online medical education platform, said that operating under severe resource constraints, healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of a hostile external environment.
Healthcare professionals have taken to social media to describe in painful detail the growing stigma they are facing with each passing day.
"From working long, gruelling shifts without adequate protective gear and facing attacks from patients to getting booted out of their homes and feeling afraid for their families, the mental strain our medical professionals are going through is immense. All of them are going through severe anxiety and many are having difficulties sleeping," Kuttan said.
She added that doctors are professionally obligated to take care of their mental health so that they can provide good quality care to their patients.
"Considering the enormity of what they are going through, we cannot expect them to go looking for mental health support. In fact, they should get unlimited access to mental health services during this time of crisis," Kuttan, told IANS.
A recent study, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, revealed that front-line medical staff must be prioritised for rapid mental health support.
According to Ekta Soni, Chief Clinical Psychologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi, healthcare workers don't have the luxury of living inside their homes to shield themselves from the coronavirus.
They have to expose themselves to the risk, and some are separating themselves from their families for weeks to avoid transmitting the virus to them.
"Healthcare workers working with COVID-19 patients reported symptoms of depression, symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and reported distress. The risk of infection, especially if it is asymptomatic, instils fear of spreading the virus to their patients and families," said Soni.
"They're deeply sad for their dying patients, many of whom are slipping away without their loved ones at their side. Many admitted to harbouring darker feelings," she added.
However, some corona warriors are receiving utmost support from their neighbours.
Sharing his own experience, Manoj Goel, Director, Pulmonology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurugram, said: "People are very cooperative in my society and keep asking about my wellbeing through calls and messages".
"My neighbours are putting cards outside my house as a thank you note and consider me a corona warrior. While I am working in the hospital they enquire about my families health and wellbeing and if they need any help in my absence. I am greeted with a smile by our society security guard whenever I leave or enter my society".
According to experts, having an open channel of communication to assess what they are going through is a need of the hour.
Not only will it help them readjust to everything once the situation starts to improve, but also keep them from developing post-traumatic stress.
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