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April 30, 2020

Polio-affected lady doctor on frontline to fight Covid-19


April 30, 2020

LAHORE :As health workers have come out to selflessly serve millions of human beings in the face of dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, a lady doctor in Pakistan living with poliovirus is on the frontline to lead the fight against coronavirus.

The physically-challenged polio affected female doctor, who is working on frontline to fight Covid-19 in some of the densely populated areas of Lahore, has not only overcome personal challenge but also confronts community challenges, which tend more to trigger the spike rather than containing the spread of coronavirus among the people. As coronavirus spreads its tentacles all over the globe, tens of thousands of doctors and health workers have taken to the frontlines and many others bearing the brunt of the disease in the absence of personal protection equipment, and laying their lives in the line of duty.

Dr Nadia Ata, having been crippled for life by the poliovirus at a very young age, is an inspiration among thousands of medical personnel and working as a frontline doctor with a spirit to defeat the pandemic after personally enduring the challenges of poliovirus with great courage and bravery.

"It is only faith in yourself that keeps you going. That you are going out for a very serious cause," says Dr Nadia, Deputy District Officer Health, Ravi Town, Lahore, who has to go out and conduct screening and sampling of suspected patients in some of most thickly-populated areas like Shahdara, Badami Bagh, Walled City of Lahore, etc.

"I have seen disease and stigma at a very young age after I was paralysed for life by the crippling poliovirus. Corona and polio have at least two things in common; stigma and death. While I dodged death I am out here to save others from coronavirus, which has the potential to kill at a very large scale without the distinction of age, colour, creed or religion," says Dr Nadia, who leads a team of over 100 trained workers and provides motivation with a personal example of going out in the field and conducts testing of the suspected corona patients.

Dr Nadia informed that the coronavirus was spreading rapidly as they had been able to identify up to 20 patients in one street with multiple patients in a single household. "It emphasises all the more importance of social distancing to prevent the disease," she informed that they prioritised aggressive tracing of positive cases’ whole range of contacts in the last 14 days to stem its further spread among the people.

After coronavirus turned into a pandemic, the Polio Oversight Board has suspended polio eradication drives in the endemic countries to save polio workers from the risk of catching the virus. One of the impacts of Covid-19 is of course disruption in immunisation.

"To reduce the risk of increasing transmission of Covid-19, the Polio Oversight Board has made the hard decision to pause house to house vaccination campaigns, knowing that this may lead to an increase in polio cases. To reduce this risk we will support countries to maintain essential immunisation for all vaccine preventable diseases. Routine immunisation is essential and should continue as long as safely possible," said the board in a statement. But Dr Nadia has selflessly adapted into a new role to battle against the pandemic virus.

"I started off by taking my family into confidence. My mother, husband and children were all afraid when this virus spread out. I have explained to them that if anything happens to myself it will not be the end of the world. They will need to remain calm and allow me time to recover. I have assured them that if one of you gets infected I will take care of them," Dr Nadia says adding "I urge all of them to maintain good hygiene, eat good food, increase protein intake and take proper sleep."

Since the outbreak of the virus in Pakistan, Dr Nadia has been able to screen thousands of people on roads and shuttle the suspected corona patients to hospitals for further care.

"I take lead in going in the field with my team. If I am afraid or take a back seat my team will never be able to perform its duties. When you are visiting a confirmed patient in a neighbourhood there is an element of fear and risk. I will always sit in the ambulance with the suspected patients taken to hospitals after initial testing. After the patient is transported, I search for contacts and take their samples to determine their status," she said. However, Dr Nadia believed combating the coronavirus a grand struggle, mainly, due to lack of awareness among people coupled with a stigma attached to the disease. In Western countries, the people are volunteering for Covid-19 screening, while in Pakistan, the people are running away for fear of being identified for as corona patients.

"Whenever I go outside to conduct random testing, surveillance or screening, I always wear personal protection gear. My team also makes sure that they are properly sanitized and well-guarded," added Dr Nadia, but regretted that two of her workers had contracted the virus despite maximum precautions.

Despite support from Unicef, which airlifted tonnes of protective equipment to Pakistan, and other friendly countries, Dr Nadia said, there is dearth of protective gear which is rendering health staff vulnerable.

"The N-95 masks need to be sanitized over and over again, else it makes doctors vulnerable to the virus. The protective goggles have dark hues which limits doctors' ability, especially the ones who have weak eyesight, to perform tasks," she pleads. "But we will not give up," Dr Nadia says when it comes to work, disability is never an excuse. "I forget that I have been affected with the paralytic disease. If not us, who else will help people in these difficult times? But still, Dr Nadia warned citizens against carelessness as some ignorant persons still do not take the virus risk seriously to stay at home. She requested not to go outside to play games, maintain social distancing, wash hands regularly, and urged parents to exercise strict control over their children. "I already see a change in communities. I see change in people, they are taking precautions. I believe we can beat this virus supported by communities," said Dr Nadia brimming with hope and optimism.