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March 29, 2020

Anxiety and fear strike healthcare providers working without personal protective equipment


March 29, 2020

After several healthcare workers, including doctors and paramedics, have tested positive for coroanvirus at two health facilities in Karachi, frontline healthcare workers are facing extreme anxiety and fear as the majority of them are being compelled to work without personal protective equipment (PPE) while nobody knows whether the patients they are examining are infected or not.

Dozens of doctors, paramedics and healthcare workers from various healthcare facilities in the city have been told to quarantine themselves at homes and some other facilities after they came into contact with patients and doctors who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The PPE includes N95 masks, Tyvek suits, gloves, face shields and goggles.

“Today when I walked into the ER of a private hospital in Karachi while wearing an N-95 mask, I saw several of my colleagues and hospital staff covering their faces simply with surgical masks. One of my colleagues asked me how I managed to get the precious N95 mask and whether I could get one for him too as he was compelled to examine dozens of patients at the emergency of the hospital with a simple surgical mask and without any other PPE,” said Dr Irfan (name changed on request), an emergency medicine specialist at a private hospital in Karachi, on Saturday.

Dr Irfan said healthcare sector in Karachi was facing an extreme shortage of PPE, especially N95 masks, and added that due to the absence of protective gear, some of the healthcare workers contracted the ailment without knowing that patients they were examining for minor, non-infectious complaints were actually infected with COVID-19.

“Community transmission of COVID-19 is underway at a rapid pace in Karachi and nobody knows who is infected with the lethal virus. Most of the people infected with this virus remain asymptomatic, but doctors and healthcare workers are required to treat every patient and even their colleagues as carriers,” the doctor said, adding that he was advising all the healthcare providers to follow the protocols of WHO and CDC regarding infectious diseases while dealing with any patient.

Keeping in view the shortage of PPE for doctors, especially those working at public health facilities, several NGOs have started acquiring the precious material at exorbitant rates and started supplying it to the health facilities to protect the frontline healthcare workers from contracting the viral ailment.

“For the last two weeks, we have been purchasing N95 masks, sanitisers and other equipment and supplying it to the healthcare workers at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), National Institute of Child Health (NICH) and Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK),” said Dr Fayyaz Alam, representative of the Dua Foundation and a doctor by profession himself. Dr Fayyaz said he was very disturbed by seeing healthcare providers, especially young doctors working without proper PPE at public and private hospitals, and with the help of some prominent young doctors, including Dr Umer Sultan of the JPMC and Dr Zeeshan Ansari, they had distributed hundreds of masks among doctors at various healthcare facilities.

Another welfare organisation, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, has also donated a handsome quantity of PPE to various hospitals in the city, saying it is more important to take care of the needs of the healthcare providers than to distribute food among people as healthcare workers’ safety is of utmost importance in this time of crisis.

Several other NGOs and welfare organisations, especially the Poverty Eradication Initiative (PEI), which imports medical supplies and PPE from different countries of the world, said they were trying to meet the need of provincial health departments and had so far handed over thousands of PPE to the provincial health departments, including the health department, to provide it to their doctors and staff.

Commenting on the shortage of the PPE, Executive Director Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre Dr Seemin Jamali said that although the entire world was facing a shortage of PPE for their healthcare providers, the JPMC administration was trying its best to equip its staff with personal protective gear, and in this regard, both the private sector and the government had supported them a lot.

“Initially, we used our own funds to purchase masks and other protective gear and, in the meantime, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and philanthropists came forward and helped us in this regard. Meanwhile, the government also came to our rescue and now all the frontline workers at the important places have been provided the protective equipment,” Dr Seemin Jamali said.

But hospitals managers said there was still an acute shortage of PPE at both public and private hospitals as this equipment was disposable and needed to be changed daily, and in some cases, several times a day.

“You need to change your gloves every time you examine a suspected patient. The same is the case with masks, especially the N95 which is a disposable item and needs to the changed regularly,” said Dr Munir Sadiq, a consultant at the CHK.

He added that instead of doctors, common people were wearing N95 masks on motorcycles, which was a waste of resources.

“When I see people wearing N95 masks while driving their motorbikes, whereas doctors and healthcare workers are deprived of this precious equipment, I get depressed. For God’s sake, this equipment, especially N95 masks, are for healthcare workers, not for common people, who don’t come into contact with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients,” Dr Sadiq said.