Protecting the saviours

Not enough is being done to ensure the safety of healthcare givers

Doctors being arrested following a protest over lack of satety equipment.

Nasreen* is a nurse at one of the major hospitals in Lahore. She has quarantined herself at her house after being diagnosed with Covid-19. She says she was on duty at the emergency ward when she noticed the symptoms.

“No one thought of equipping us with the necessary protective kits,” Nasreen tells The News on Sunday. “Nurses are being ignored not only in routine hospital work but also in quarantine and isolation wards.”

Most patients approach the emergency ward as soon as they enter a hospital. The practice has not changed despite the outbreak of coronavirus. Increasingly, people with symptoms of the virus are coming to the emergency wards. Hospitals have been instructed to check the patients for symptoms and accordingly send them to the isolation wards.

The paramedical and nursing staff form the frontline.

According to the Young Nurses’ Association (YNA)-Punjab, 18 nurses have been diagnosed with Covid-19 across the province.

Muqaddas Tasneem, a spokesperson for the YNA and the head nurse at Children’s Hospital Lahore tells TNS that that there are “no masks, gloves or sanitisers available, let alone personal protective equipment (PPEs) for those working in the emergency ward.”

“The situation in isolation wards and quarantine centres is not good. N95 masks are a rare commodity. Some of our members have purchased these at their own expense,” she says. “Using the same mask for days at end goes against the health guidelines for staff taking care of infectious disease, but what else can the staff do?”

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), N95 respirators should be discarded following close contact with, or exit from the care area of, any patient suffering from an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.

“It is important to consider that our nurses also have to take care of their families at home. If somebody becomes a carrier, it puts their entire family at risk,” says Tasneem.

In a news report aired on the Capital Talk show on Geo News, Farzana Khan, president of Pakistan Nurses’ Association claimed that the nursing staff was not equipped with protective gear in keeping with World Health Organisation standards.

The situation is no different for paramedical staff.

Malik Munir, coordinator of All Pakistan Paramedics Association, says that paramedical staff is being ignored when it comes to their safety. “Governments must provide us with PPEs before it is too late.”

Members of the Young Doctors’ Associatoin in Balochistan have taken to the streets to protest the shortage of protective equipment.

Despite the prohibition of assembly in the province, members of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) recently staged a street protest against the government and demanded early provision of PPEs. Footage aired on national media showed police in Quetta beating doctors protesting over the lack of safety equipment before arresting at least 50, including Dr Haneef Loni, the Balochistan YDA general secretary.

“We have been sending requests to the government to equip health workers with safety equipment. Our representatives met the chief minister three days prior to our protest but our efforts were in vain. Therefore, we had no other option but to hold a protest demonstration,” says Dr Rahim Khan Babar, a YDA spokesperson, who is currently under arrest.

Babar says 18 doctors have already been diagnosed with coronavirus, adding that the number of paramedical and nursing staff similarly infected is likely to be greater. Babar also criticises the government policy of surrendering resources to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

“There is a health emergency in the country. The situation is different from a flood or an earthquake. Associations of health workers must have been taken on board to combat this pandemic rather than being isolated.”

The YDA-Punjab says that 30 doctors in the province have contracted the virus so far. Dr Salman Kazmi, the YDA Punjab president, says that while the supply of PPEs is slowly improving, other resources remain insufficient.

“Conditions in isolation wards in Lahore, Gujrat, and Multan are challenging for health workers. The number of active patients is increasing by the day, and protocols for safety need to be taken seriously.”

Since the formation of a special committee by Punjab chief secretary to monitor the supply and demand of PPEs, the situation is getting better, says Mian Naveed, a health reporter and deputy bureau chief of Neo TV.

“Nevertheless, the situation in isolation wards is not ideal.” Reports from rural areas indicate that PPEa are not to Basic Health Unit (BHUs) staff, says Naveed. “The situation can exacerbate the greatest health crisis of our times.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, has already expressed concern regarding the challenges being faced by health workers, especially in developing countries.

“We continue to hear alarming reports from around the world of large numbers of infections among health workers. Even if we do everything else right, but don’t prioritise protecting health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their life is sick.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

Coronavirus in Pakistan: Not enough being done to ensure safety of healthcare givers