On World Health Day, nurses are getting infected with COVID-19 because of a PPE scarcity
India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million pieces of personal protective equipment as it confronts the spread of coronavirus. Nurses in India are getting infected with the coronavirus because of a lack of protective gear. On World Health Day, we take a moment to consider the absurdity of front line workers fighting a battle without necessary armour.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Tuesday said the World Health Day is an opportunity to reaffirm our gratitude towards all doctors, nurses, medical staff and healthcare workers leading the battle against COVID-19.
"Today on #WorldHealthDay, let us not only pray for each other's good health and well-being but also reaffirm our gratitude towards all those doctors, nurses, medical staff and healthcare workers who are bravely leading the battle against the COVID-19 menace," the prime minister tweeted.
He also said on this World Health Day, let us also follow practices such as social distancing which will protect our own lives as well as the lives of others.
"May this day also inspire us towards focusing on personal fitness through the year, which would help improve our overall health," he said.
The vice president appealed to citizens to respect and appreciate the selfless work of the medical community.
"Any misbehaviour or assault on doctors & nurses is unacceptable & most stringent action must be taken against culprits behind such incidents," his office tweeted.
The World Health Day is observed every year on this day to highlight a priority area of concern for the World Health Organisation (WHO).
On the eve of World Health Day, the Kerala government requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look into reports of nurses from the state getting infected with COVID-19 in Delhi and Maharashtra allegedly due to lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written a letter to Modi seeking his "attention to the situation", an official said.
In a press meet after the evaluation meet on COVID-19, Vijayan said 46 nurses from Kerala working in Mumbai have contracted the deadly virus and more than 150 nurses are under observation there.
He said, five nurses at Delhi's prestigious Cancer Institute have been infected with the virus amid complaints regarding lack of PPE across the country.
"I request that the concerned state governments may be advised to urgently look into the facts and circumstances... and provide due care, attention and necessary precautions so that the standard health protocols are followed and utmost protection is given to the health personnel who are rendering valuable service to our society," Vijayan said in the letter.
Vijayan said the nurses have requested that necessary steps be taken to separate people who are diagnosed positive for Coronavirus and those who presently have no symptoms.
"We are receiving frantic telephone calls from them (nurses). Many of them are informing us that there is lack of adequate precaution to prevent the contagion of the disease," Vijayan said.
India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million pieces of personal protective equipment as it confronts the spread of coronavirus, and has approached hundreds of companies to secure supplies quickly, according to a report by the country's investment agency seen by Reuters.
As cases of the illness have risen, so has demand for protective equipment and masks, as well as complaints from healthcare workers about shortages.
In a four-page internal document dated March 27, the Invest India agency detailed efforts to find companies that can supply critical supplies. Invest India said it had contacted 730 companies for ventilators, ICU monitors, protective equipment, masks and testing kits, of which 319 firms had responded so far.
The quantity of masks available for supply from the companies was 9.1 million, the Invest India document said, adding that available supplies of personal protective equipment such as body coveralls stood at almost 800,000.
But Invest India estimated the country needed 38 million masks - 14 million needed by state governments and the rest by the central government - and 6.2 million pieces of protective gear. It did not give any time frame for the demand.
The document said the data covered seven of India's 36 states and centrally-controlled territories, meaning the total demand for such equipment required could be much higher.
At the main facility for COVID-19 treatment in Bihar, doctors do not have proper protective gear and some are wary of entering the wards where five coronavirus patients are being treated, said Ravi R.K Raman, president of a doctor's association there.
"We are not running away from the crisis. It is our duty to help people. But we ask the government to give us adequate supplies of personal protective equipment," said Raman.
In Uttar Pradesh, drivers of around 4,700 ambulances that mainly serve government hospitals went on strike last week, demanding proper safety gear and health insurance.
"We won't risk our lives unless our demand is met," Hanuman Pandey, president of the Ambulance Workers Association, told Reuters.
According to one projection, more than 100,000 people could be infected by mid-May, putting India's underfunded health system and scarce doctors under severe strain.
In Kolkata, junior doctors at the major coronavirus treatment facility - Beliaghata Infectious Disease Hospital - were given plastic raincoats to examine patients last week, according to two doctors there and photographs reviewed by Reuters.
"We won't work at the cost of our lives," said one of the doctors, who declined to be named because he feared retaliation from the authorities.
The hospital's medical superintendent in-charge, Dr. Asis Manna, declined to comment.
In Haryana, Dr. Sandeep Garg of ESI Hospital said he had been using a motorbike helmet because he didn't have any N95 masks, which offer significant protection against virus particles.
"I put on a helmet - it has a visor in front so it covers my face, adding another layer over the surgical mask," Garg said.
The plight of doctors in the pandemic has cast a light on a dilapidated and overburdened public health system that has for years been starved of funds and an overhaul. India spends about 1.3% of its GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world.
"We are living on a prayer, it's not that we can save ourselves by relying on the health system," said a senior federal government official in New Delhi, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation.
In a state-run hospital in the city of Rohtak in Haryana, several junior doctors have been declining to treat patients unless they have adequate safety equipment.
They also established an informal COVID-19 fund, to which each doctor contributed 1,000 rupees ($13.27) to buy masks and other face coverings, one of the doctors said.
"Everybody is scared," the doctor said. "Nobody wants to work without protection."