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Health workers face a massive struggle

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment while caring for patients with coronavirus infection in the Indian state of Kerala.
Health workers wearing personal protective equipment at the District Hospital in Tirur, Kerala during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: Javed Anees / CC0

During the Janata Curfew, throngs of Indians broke out in applause and other displays of gratitude in a mass felicitation of the country’s health workers manning the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. However, for many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare personnel, the reality of the pandemic is grim. 

Numerous reports have surfaced of health workers living in rental accommodation facing eviction due to fears that they could spread the virus. Some are reported to have been left homeless amidst the lethal outbreak. Social stigma is making an inexorably difficult job even harder. 

One medical student at MGM Hospitals outlined the plight of health workers during the pandemic to The New Indian Express, stating “they [landlords] are recognising us with our lab coats and stethoscopes. Many doctors have been asked to vacate their rented homes by their owners as they believe that doctors staying at their houses may make them more susceptible to COVID-19. One owner even said we were dirty. They asked us to vacate without any notice. Most of the doctors are now on [the] streets and have nowhere to go.”

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has spoken out against this practice, stating he was “deeply anguished” by reports of evictions and threats of evictions. The Ministry has said that landlords could be penalised should they evict healthcare workers who work with COVID-19 patients. 

Another issue is that of safety. Dr Satanau Sen, national president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) who also represents West Bengal in the Rajya Sabha, referenced the Janata Curfew display and said “clapping in appreciation alone won’t work. We need to walk the talk and truly ensure that medical professionals can do their work without any fear.” 

According to Sen, “many medical professionals have expressed grave concern to the Indian Medical Association about the safety of health workers being exposed to patients who are carriers of the coronavirus. Even if a single healthcare worker is infected due to government negligence, it will be a blot on us.” In a meeting held in Kolkata, members concurred and asserted “the Central government should get its act together and take all necessary steps to protect its front-line workers.”

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