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March 31, 2020

Protecting workers

Editorial

 
March 31, 2020

We have seen doctors and paramedical staff post their videos from various parts of the country complaining about the inadequacy of protective gear offered to them. And we strongly urge the government to protect these frontline heroes. But our sanitary workers don’t even have access to the internet to project their plight. What to talk of small towns, even in large cities such as Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, sanitary workers are left at the mercy of the elements. While doctors and nurses deal with a limited number of patients, sanitary workers have to deal with the garbage and rubbish of entire cities. In this time of increasing risks of Covid-19, our sanitary workers are regularly coming to duty and cleaning our streets and alleys. Hardly any sanitary workers have protective gears to shield themselves from the hazardous effects of the pestilence raging all over the country. Most of them are poor, work on a contract basis, without any medical or other facilities.

These sanitary workers are malnourished in the first place, and then exposed to extremely unhygienic conditions of cleaning drains, gutters, and manholes. Moreover, the sanitary workers assigned the task of cleaning hospital wards and isolation centres are even more vulnerable to infections. While the doctors and paramedical staff are educated and well-aware of the dangers posed by such exposure, sanitary workers are mostly illiterate and unaware of the full spectrum of the menace they are surrounded with. With an increasing number of corona cases emerging across the country, health hazards for our sanitary workers are also mounting day by day. While the medical staff mostly keep an eye on each other and can check their body temperatures, the sanitary workers go out to clean and dispose of contaminated refuse with their bare hands. Even if they have gloves, the supply of gloves is limited and they end up using the same gloves again and again, and this practice cancels out the protective potential of the gloves themselves.

Municipal authorities in cities and hospital authorities in clinics and isolation wards must make sure that all sanitary workers are properly screened, and provided with protective gears. In the case of gloves and aprons, they must be replaced regularly so that they don’t carry infections around. These are our real heroes who are not only vulnerable but also low-paid and overworked. They are the ones who never say no to any cleaning and sweeping job no matter how detrimental and nauseating it is. It is the collective responsibility of our society to treat them with respect and reward them adequately for their work that largely goes unacknowledged. The cleanliness and hygiene conditions in our cities and towns alike are one of the worst in the world and most government hospitals are no exception. These conditions have become even more hazardous with the advent of Covid-19; we must take it seriously and protect sanitary workers.