In Sri Lanka, there are more than 150, 000 front line health care workers working with shortage of safety equipment, grueling work hours and dealing with stress and anxiety; putting their lives on hold for safety of their citizens. Whereas the protection of health workers is as crucial as ever to care for the patients and have little time to think about themselves. Adding to it is the shortage of safety equipment for lower grade health care workers, there is a concern about the quality of safety kits distributed to them.
But the public can by adhere to the instructions of the authorities to fight the pandemic safely; enable them to continue their work of taking care of all patients affected by COVID-19 and all other patients who need treatment. As health care workers, from doctors to attendants and Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) are working around the clock to manage and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been dealing with the risk of contracting or passing the infection on to others with their own fears of protecting themselves over while caring for the ill.
Except in major hospitals, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and N95 grade masks have been limited in several parts of the country. In addition to the hospital staff, PHIs who have been key in detecting suspected Covid-19 patients pay visits to gather information regarding recent returnees from overseas; but unfortunately have not been provided with protective masks or even sanitizers. Confronted by difficult situations that pit their desire to remain safe against their duty to help patients, the situation has left many workers stressed.
Especially as PHIs are the first responders of Covid-19 dealing with patients, whether they are diagnosed with or are suspected of COVID-19, face an increased risk for exposure to the virus. It is true they can minimize the risk by following infection control and prevention recommendations; but they don’t have enough safety equipment and despite best efforts, become exposed to a corona virus patient! Another major problem PHIs are facing at the moment is that in almost 75% of the districts have no proper transport method provided by the government. Despite there being government vehicles given to the MOHs in 5% of districts, the vehicles have not been assigned to them even during this crisis situation.
While not all the nurses are provided with safety kits or even masks which have made them wear improvised polythene waste bags to protect from infection and to date more than 100 nursing staff have been sent for quarantine after being exposed to the virus from patients. In another case, the entire antenatal staff in a hospital were sent for quarantine after a pregnant woman was admitted for the delivery of her child; was later found positive for COVID-19. Further the duties of the PHIs range from visiting houses to identify suspected COVID-19 cases till the cremation of bodies of those who succumb to COVID-19. Their duties however are not regulated by the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance.
True the situation in the country with reported COVID-19 cases so far is manageable; but the seriousness of this particular pandemic is that nobody can predict how things will turn out. But if people can do as they are instructed by the authorities and if new cases are controlled, then surely have no major risk. Whereas the hospitals will run out of personal protective equipment and other safety equipment in two weeks if the authorities fail to minimize new cases. Another concern is that patients hiding their illnesses which causes an eminent threat to hospital staffers will create a new set of problems when wards have to be closed for quarantine purposes.
Further, the public needs to know what kind of a commitment is undertaken by health care workers in order to save patients, for a number of health care workers had to look for new places to live as they were asked to vacate from their rented houses since the COVID-19 cases started to increase. Fortunately, the authorities have provided accommodation for them.
There is a sense of fear among many of the front line health care workers, with limited personnel protection equipment and public are not aware it is that serious; whereas they must stay home to wipe out this corona virus menace sooner than later. If not many more health care staff may get exposed and pass the virus on to others, especially a vulnerable member of their immediate family. Therefore public must take this matter seriously and stay lock down during National New Year break.