As the caseload of COVID-19 patients has risen in India to surpass 100,000, medical professionals are finding themselves under growing pressure. Many of them even face harassment and physical assault, forcing the federal government to bring in emergency legislation for their protection.
“...there have been instances of the most critical service providers i.e. members of healthcare services being targeted and attacked by miscreants, thereby obstructing them from doing their duties. Members of the Medical community, even as they continue to perform relentlessly round the clock and save human lives, have unfortunately become the most vulnerable victims as they have been perceived by some as carriers of the virus,” said the federal Health Ministry on the legislation.
Several healthcare professionals have also had to fight on another front, after their neighbours shunned them as carriers of the viral infection and shut the doors of their apartments as has been reported in the Delhi suburb of Ghaziabad.
“....we respectfully appeal to our fellow residents who are doctors, paramedical staff and working in different hospitals in Delhi to make a temporary arrangement for their stay in Delhi....” The diktat by the apartment owners association was supposedly “to protect other fellow residents of NKP from pandemic COVID-19”.
This is what our frontline warriors of COVID-19 have to face. Is there an order by Ghaziabad Municipal Commissioner to bar entry of medical professionals in residential complexes? If it is based on such an order, it violates @narendramodi ‘s appeals and appeal by @drharshvardhan pic.twitter.com/gzrxrkzonY— NB Nair (@nbnair) May 8, 2020
As the cases of COVID-19 have mounted, many hospitals have found that they don't have protective gear and there have been several instances of hospital employees protesting about it. Doctors and other frontline staff of the government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi, which is administered directly by the federal Health Ministry, surrounded the office of the Medical Superintendent, complaining about the shortage of protective gear.
“Earlier we had issues of personal protection gear. But after prolonged protests, such gear was provided to all members of the hospital staff. The current cases of infection in hospital staff are among the sanitation workers, ward boys, who do not strictly follow the norms,” said a representative of the government-run Bhim Rao Ambedkar Hospital in northwest Delhi.
In Bhim Rao Ambedkar Hospital, 123 medical professionals have been infected with COVID-19. This includes 22 doctors, 38 nursing officers and 20 house keeping staff.
Another government-run hospital, where dozens of medical professionals were infected, even asked its employees not to air their problems on social media. Meanwhile, the Health Department of the Delhi Government requested medics in its hospitals to explain how they "got infected or become a contact in spite of wearing protective gears, maintaining safe distance and following precautions prescribed for healthcare workers.” The order was, however, withdrawn after it created a lot of consternation among the staff.
Though medical professionals are the “most critical care providers”, not only were they not given any additional monetary or other benefits or risk allowance, they were even asked to donate one day’s salary towards the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund or PM-CARES Fund.
The Resident Doctors Association (RDA) of India’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi has now written to the director of the institute and complained that “RDA AIIMS reiterates that the majority of residents have donated on a personal level and want to exercise choice of further donation. We again request the administration to reconsider the decision and make the donation opt-in or reject it altogether.”
“It would be better if our local donation is directly used for procuring more and better PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) and protective gear for healthcare staff across the country, rather than routing it through the PM-CARES Fund,” said Srinivas Rajkumar, General Secretary of AIIMS RDA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked citizens to pay tributes to frontline staff on 22 March, three days before a national lockdown was declared. The only benefit announced for the critical care providers was insurance cover of approximately US $66,400. Ever since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the country on 30 January, the caseload has spiralled to cross 100,000 and according to the federal Health Ministry, it was 112,359 on Thursday, which included 45,299 cured cases and 3,435 deaths from the infection.