Disabled healthcare professionals stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against coronavirus
Across India healthcare professionals with disabilities are at the forefront along with other medical experts in the fight to treat patients affected with coronavirus. Many of them are taking enormous risks in doing so given their disability. That’s our focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
Among the many heroes leading the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in India is M M Prajith, a disabled lab attendant at the Ernakulam Medical College Hospital. In a video shared on Twitter by disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh, Prajith can be seen returning home after four days of continuous duty to applause from his neighbours.
There are many heroes in this fight against the #COVID19India pandemic & here's one. After 4 days of continuous duty, MM Prajith, a lab attendant with disability working as a lab astt at Ernakulam Medical College Hospital, returns home to a round of applause from the neighbours👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/sA1mMYgQku
— Satendra Singh, MD (@drsitu) March 23, 2020
Like Prajith, there are hundreds of disabled healthcare professionals who are putting in round-the-clock duty in the fight against coronavirus or COVID-19. They are truly heroes as they are taking on twice the risk of other medical professionals. Many of them have conditions that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus or other infections.
Inadequate protective equipment
As the quarantine in-charge at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital Dr Sandeep Mishra stands in the line of fire. Dr Mishra has a locomotor disability due to polio and screens people who are coming in for testing for coronavirus. KEM Hospital is one of Mumbai’s most prominent public health facilities and there’s a huge flood of patients.
“We are dealing with patients who have conditions like HIV and tuberculosis, so they are severely immuno-compromised and most vulnerable to coronavirus”, says Dr Mishra, who specialises in cognitive medicine. As a father to two young kids, he is worried about catching the infection. “We have been given minimum protection and have simple face masks which are not adequate. What we need are N95 masks but there is not enough of that available for the medical staff here”.
There are other issues faced by doctors here as well, like the lack of transport. As a person with mobility impairment, getting to the hospital is a major challenge for Dr Mishra. “Today I managed as my senior gave me a lift in his car. Healthcare professionals with disabilities should get some consideration when it comes to such issues”.
Transport is also a challenge for Ghaziabad-based nurse MKD*, who works at a top hospital in New Delhi. She has a type of scoliosis that affects her lung capacity, making her especially vulnerable to coronavirus. “I had to miss a day’s work as no transport arrangements have been made and the border between Ghaziabad and Delhi is sealed”. The other issue is social distancing. “There is not enough protective equipment provided, be it gloves or masks and my family worries for me as my lung capacity is weaker”.
Reflection of a larger neglect
The lack of facilities and equipment is symbolic of a larger neglect of the disabled community’s needs by the government, be it medical professionals or the general public. “My junior in the department is a bilateral amputee and needs a helper but she has not been given one. There are no provisions for disabled doctors mentioned even in the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW)“, points out Dr Mishra.
Ranchi-based paediatrician Dr Divya Singh is bracing for the worst in her state. Jharkhand, until now, has not thrown up any coronavirus cases, but she is sure it is a matter of time before patients start coming in. A wheelchair user, Dr Divya is angry about the lack of any protective equipment.
Forget disabled medical staff, there is no help being given even to disabled patients who come for treatment. Disabled healthcare professionals require some form of assistance to go do their duty as well as protection. This is not going to work. If you want us on duty, we have to be given protection. Even N95 masks are not available and this is the situation across all hospitals. This outbreak is going to acquire bigger proportions. How are we going to manage? – Dr Divya Singh, Paediatrician
Make PPE mandatory, says Doctors with Disabilities
Issues raised by Doctors with Disabilitiess, a pan-India group of healthcare professionals. In a strongly worded letter to the MoHFW, founders Dr Satendra Singh and Dr Vikrant Sirohi said use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by healthcare professionals during the outbreak should be mandatory. They also said that preferences should be given to those with disabilities involved in direct patient care.
“Right from day one of our medical college we were told to abide by the Hippocratic Oath”, says Dr Sirohi, who is a Senior Medical Health Officer at Nagar Nigam, Roorkee, Haridwar district and is also associated with the Community Health Centre at Bhagwanpur Block.”We are committed to protect society but it has to be a collective effort. Soldiers cannot safeguard borders without ammunition. It’s a huge challenge to fight a deadly enemy without adequate PPE. Rather than claps, society should invest in healthcare. If HCP fall ill, how can we flatten the curve?”.
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