If health workers are trying to save our lives, who is protecting theirs?

After a Kerala doctor died of Covid-19 on Sunday, the subject on health workers' health and safety arises yet again
For representational purpose onl
For representational purpose onl

Health workers have played an important part in the fight against Covid-19. They have put their lives on the line to protect ours. If not for them, many more patients could have succumbed to this deadly virus. However, an important question arises. If health workers are trying to save our lives, who is protecting theirs?

On November 29, Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja reported the demise of Dr EC Babukutty, head of the orthopedics department at the Ernakulam Government Medical College Hospital. It was confirmed that Dr Babukuty’s death was due to Covid-19. While condoling his demise, Shailaja said that the doctor was involved in the fight against Covid-19 and lauded his contribution. He is the fourth doctor to have caught and succumbed to the Covid-19 virus.

Dr Babukutty’s demise has once again raised questions regarding the safety of frontline health workers. On November 28, Kerala had reported that 56 health workers tested positive for COvid-19 and on Sunday, 34 health workers tested positive. These are worrying signs.

Health workers have been clocking in umpteen number of hours to keep patients safe and curb the spread of the virus. Not only are these health workers taking care of those infected by Covid-19, but are also looking after those who are seeking treatment for other medical issues. Without proper sleep, nutrition and the constant worry of getting infected, our health workers are battling multiple issues all at once. Long and tiring shifts are putting them under tremendous stress to deliver.

The World Health Organizations (WHO) has reiterated that countries must ensure the safety of health workers. “The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives. No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, on September 17, 2020.

On October 21, the Union Health Ministry announced that nearly three crore frontline health workers will be vaccinated first when the Covid-19 vaccine is ready. But just vaccinating them will not be enough.

The governments must pay the health workers on time and not delay their salaries. The government must also provide adequate personal protective gear and essential supplies that health workers need. Hospitals must help reduce the long shifts of health workers. The government and hospitals should also help relieve the health workers of their domestic burden by giving incentives, voucher, etc., which helps these workers concentrate on work without worrying too much about their domestic lives.

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