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COVID-19: '137 doctors have died so far'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
July 29, 2020 08:04 IST
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'The government says the mortality rate among patients is 2 to 3 per cent, but in doctors it is 11 per cent, which is very high.'

IMAGE: Medical staff at the Civil Hospital, Surat, pay tribute to nurse Sunil Prabhudad Nimavat who died while working at the hospital. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

That the medical fraternity has been under extreme pressure in the coronavirus pandemic is well known.

Exactly how much became known when Dr Rajas Deshpande from Pune posted a video stating how stressed medical staff were working non-stop in the COVID-19 ward.

Dr Deshpande, below, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com why he decided to go public with his grievances.


I have been fighting for the rights of doctors for the last 20 years and when I made this video, I wanted to highlight what insecurities doctors are facing during this pandemic.

Doctors are voiceless today and they neither have a strong platform to raise their problems nor are they in huge numbers that they can be counted as a vote bank so politicians would help them.

Mainstream media on the other hand find it appealing to write bad news about doctors.

I was disturbed by it and I lost my patience when some close doctor friends of mine and acquaintances started losing their lives while treating COVID-19 patients.

I made the video because all the doctors in India are working very hard to save lives.

They are working non-stop, day and night.

After I uploaded my video, many post-graduate doctor students have been writing on my Facebook page and airing their problems in working in the pandemic situation.

The plight of junior doctors especially is very worrisome.

These post-graduate student doctors are over-stressed and they have been told that if they refuse to do their work, they will fail in their exams.

These poor guys have no option but to work quietly./p>

When you as a doctor are posted in COVID-19 wards, there are certain international guidelines that need to be followed for being quarantined and sadly that is not being followed in our country.

Recently, the government came with a new system of 7-5-7.

It means seven days duty, then five days rest and then back to seven days of duty.

This is very impractical as doctors can pass their infection to other people if they do such duties.

This is ridiculous and it is happening all over India.

Unfortunately, no post-graduate student will come out in the open and speak about this.

If they do, they will be ostracised and their postings will be extended.

They also fear that if they open their mouth, they will get less marks in their examination.

Qualified doctors have also been threatened that they will be charged under ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) if they do not report to work.

The worst thing is that doctors from all different branches of medicines are pushed into COVID-19 wards.

Suppose there is a gynaecology student, then for three months that student is being posted in a COVID-19 ward.

The government is not thinking about lost training for that budding gynaecology student during this period.

How will s/he cope with her/his studies?

Does every budding doctor deserve this?

Easier way out would have been to fill up more seats.

There are hundreds of doctors who have passed medical exams and are keen to do post-graduate medicine, but the government is just not interested to fill up those seats.

Payment is also a problem for doctors.

Doctors and nurses have not been paid for months.

This is an all-India scenario and not restricted to Maharashtra alone.

In a state like Telangana, resident doctors have not been paid for the last 16 months.

In Maharashtra, they brought in doctors from Kerala.

These Kerala doctors were promised higher salaries than the doctors from Maharashtra, which is a ridiculous thing to do.

Maharashtra state doctors are working 24x7 to fight the pandemic and you call doctors from other state and pay them more.

This is not done as it is humiliating to the local doctors.

Now even the doctors from Kerala have not been paid.

They too are waiting for their pay. (The usual payment is Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh per month.)

PPE (personal protective equipment) suits and N95 masks, which are protective gear, are duplicates or are of very low grade.

This is difficult to prove, but I am saying that in a country like the USA a doctor wearing a PPE suit and N95 mask, is likely to get no infection, but here in India, doctors, in spite of wearing PPE suits and N95 masks are getting infected with COVID-19.

Interns and resident doctors are told to buy these PPE suits on their own or they are waiting for someone to donate them.

Why should doctors pay for it from our pockets?

The hospitals must provide them free PPE suits and N95 masks.

After my video went viral, I got at least 20 messages that if they ask for better masks, they are told that they will be rusticated and dismissed.

One orthopaedic resident doctor in Chennai committed suicide after working under stress.

I run the Dr Rajas Deshpande page (on Facebook) which has 75,000 followers and mostly all of them are doctors.

That page will give you an insight into what doctors are saying.

Unfortunately, doctors are also divided as some are politically motivated and some fear that strict action will be taken against them.

So they are keeping quiet.

Another problem is doctors working in COVID-19 wards do not have any house help working for them.

So they are doing their household chores as well.

Most of the time doctors working in COVID-19 wards are wearing PPE suits due to which they feel breathless.

If you are a young doctor, then you can wear the PPE suit for a longer period.

But if you are a little older, it is difficult to be in that suit for more than one hour as you will start gasping.

Doctors wearing PPE suits get sweaty and one often feels fatigue.

After that when they go home, they have to take A bath and then cook.

This is a very hectic schedule.

At present it looks like this situation will continue for two more months.

My request to the government is to provide proper N95 masks and PPE suit to every post-graduate doctor student working in COVID-19 wards.

Arrange their duties in such a way that they get proper rest and are quarantined after their duty.

Duty hours should be humane.

If a doctor dies the government has announced Rs 50 lakh as compensation.

But I have not heard of anyone receiving it.

The family has to apply for this amount to the insurance company.

Now, if you go and check with insurance companies, they say they do not have any data as to how many doctors have died of COVID-19 and if their families have received the Rs 50 lakh compensation.

Some 137 doctors have died, but I have no knowledge whether their families have received the Rs 50 lakh compensation.

A doctor working in a COVID-19 ward gets a huge viral load and therefore the mortality rate of doctors is high.

The government says the mortality rate among patients is 2 to 3 per cent, but in doctors it is 11 per cent, which is very high.

I feel a solution can come if we treat COVID-19 patients in a standardised manner.

We need 5-6 times more nursing staff who can conduct calls under one doctor.

Instead of giving 20 doctors you can give one doctor and 20 helping staff so that the doctor can supervise them.

Ayurvedic, homeopathy and doctors from other fields, which comes under the Ayush ministry, can be recruited to treat COVID-19 patients.

This will help ease the burden.

Doctors are not getting leave even if they fall sick.

They have to work in COVID-19 wards irrespective of their ill-health.

They are intimidated by politicians and scared of losing their degree.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus