With the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in India and especially in Maharashtra, the situation for health care workers is reaching a dangerous level. Support for our medical professionals, who are our frontline of defence against COVID-19, is dwindling in many cases and severely lacking in some.
In Mumbai, Municipal Commissioner, Pravin Pardeshi is understood to have mandated that each ward officer should, "supply PPEs to Medical Officer of Health (MoH) for use by dispensaries and health posts with staff, cemeteries, maternity homes, solid waste management personnel (only if required), and ambulances." There has been an indication from the municipal commissioner that the supply number of PPEs is sufficient to cater to all needs, with promises of 700 PPEs for G North Ward and 1000 for G South Ward.
However, Moneylife Foundation, which has been working relentlessly at procuring and supplying key protective equipment finds that the reality is quite different—our findings are based on first hand information from all key hospitals, which continue to report new cases of doctors and medicare personnel testing positive with frightening regularity.
For starters, the quantity of PPEs from each ward officer are quite insufficient and in many cases have not even been delivered. Doctors who are handling COVID-19 cases in major hospitals around Mumbai say, that with 3 shifts of healthcare workers per day and the nature of the PPEs requiring them to be single use, demand for them has increased exponentially and there is dwindling supply. With a rise in the number of cases, an increased number of doctors have also been deputised to assist, which has lead to an added demand for effective PPEs.
“I think the requirements are growing. Besides COVID wards, emergency work, deliveries, surgeries, mortuary workers, labs etc also require protection. MCGM supply as far as I understand may not be enough nor consistent,” says Dr Mehta, who has been coordinating with Moneylife Foundation for the past few weeks in connection with aid relief. (we are protecting the names of doctors because of mindless disciplinary action reported by the media against those who speak out).
Due to the shortage of PPEs, in key patient facing functions, a growing number of healthcare workers are coming in contact with COVID-19 patients, there has been a steady rise in the number of doctors and nurses being quarantined for safety. Doctors who are already quarantined and those who are working in COVID wards across the city, are afraid to go home to their families. Even hospitals are finding it difficult to arrange appropriate accommodation for them. Ideally for at-risk healthcare workers, accommodation should be provided near hospitals to cut down on their travel time. But often this has not been logistically possible.
Here again, there is a mystery. The municipal corporation, under Praveen Pardeshi has worked with the hotel industry association to take over many hotels for doctors to stay. Even luxury hotels have offered their rooms for medical professionals and some have been taken over under emergency powers available to the municipal commissioner. Here again, the number of rooms offered seems limited and selective. Many key personnel in leading hospitals such as JJ Hospital and Sion Hospital urge for more facilities and are also looking beyond hotels to schools and performance halls that are shut down, but have basic infrastructure such as water and toilets.
Doctors, especially faculty members living far away from the hospital are having a hard time commuting as they do not have proper means of transport during the lockdown. Many healthcare workers who are in touch with Moneylife Foundation have suggested that doctors working in COVID wards should be accommodated in nearby hotels or hostels for ease of convenience and safety. They also suggested that empty school buildings near hospitals should be utilised for emergency accommodation of healthcare workers.
In early April, the Tata Group had opened Taj Hotels to accommodate doctors and nurses working in COVID wards. This is a great initiative that is also being followed by Hotel Sahil (Mumbai Central), which is currently hosting healthcare workers from Nair Hospital. A few doctors from Seven Hills Hospital have also reported that a number of doctors are currently being accommodated in a hostel nearby and some in the nearby Renaissance Hotel. Many doctors who are under quarantine or taking precautionary measures have now resorted to staying back at the hospital or nearby hostels.
Government hospitals in Mumbai, are also facing shortages of testing kits, which means that every symptomatic patient cannot be tested and this is adding more pressure to the already over stressed healthcare system. Doctors working in COVID wards have urged the government to allow tie ups of government hospitals with all private labs, which they hope will significantly increase the rate of testing. They have also stressed the importance of secluding COVID-designated hospitals and not allowing patients within the premises for any malady other than COVID or for patients showing symptoms of COVID.
Expressing concern for his colleagues a doctor from Nerul stresses thalt “all doctors at the screening zone of hospitals should have N95 masks with a face shield at the very least, as they are the first point of contact. PPEs should be a must for all those involved in COVID zones.” Fearing for the many doctors and interns posted at screening duty in peripheral areas, Dr Jain further added that they should also “perhaps be provided police protection in case of any hostilities.”
These healthcare workers are bravely facing the pandemic as our first line of defence and should be supported by the government with effective PPEs, increased testing and better logistical support if we are to curb the spread of the virus.
At the request of a doctor from Sion Hospital, Moneylife Foundation has found a generous donor to help procure a Smart Covid OPD that will allow contact-less screening of suspected COVID patients. If successful, many other donors are willing to help make things a little safer for medical warriors, whose lives are at risk in this raging pandemic.
The alumni association of Mumbai University’s economics department has joined Moneylife Foundation in this relief work focused on medical workers and hospitals.