The present-day world is under the realm of a deadly pandemic. The sudden outbreak of COVID 19 has posed an unprecedented public health emergency. Thousands of lives have been lost and many more are struggling to survive. Even stringent lockdown and social distancing norms have failed to bring down the casualties. Every industry has been hit by this lethal pandemic but the worst hit is the healthcare industry which has been stretched far greater than its capacity. Needless to say, with systems being overwhelmed, resources being swamped up, mortalities reaching catastrophic levels, more threats are mounting on healthcare professionals each passing day.
Woes of being inside PPEs
By now, no one is oblivious to the highly infectious nature of the novel CORONA virus. The entire world has come under its grip. While’social distancing’ and ‘stay at home‘ are some mantras to mitigate the risks for common people, nurses are on the frontline battling this pandemic. With the paucity of protective gears and even poor quality PPEs, nurses are quickly falling prey to this highly infectious disease. According to a news report, 1 in every 15 positive cases in Delhi is a healthcare worker because they are in greater contact with the public and directly dealing with COVID patients. Besides fighting the disease, they are also struggling exhaustion of doing long 12 – 14 hours shift in personal protective equipment wherein they can neither eat nor drink or even urinate leaving them starved, dehydrated, susceptible to UTIs and most importantly, immunocompromised. Female nurses have even resorted to medicines to delay their menstrual cycles to avoid changing sanitary napkins while they are in their coverall PPEs.Such is the plight of healthcare professionals during these tough times.
A difficult phase in a not so perfect system
While some guidelines recommend that a staffer in coverall PPEs should be exposed to COVID 19 patients only for 4 hours at a stretch but its feasibility to practice, is far from the reality due to an inadequate number of nurses in any facility. Food, transport and accommodation are also some other challenges that many healthcare workers are dealing with. With limited transportation facilities available, many are forced to live in hostels and unhygienic wards of the hospital which lack even basic amenities. No one can deny the need for good nutritious food to maintain strong immunity. But instead of giving a decent meal, many of our COVID warriors were given the poor quality, frozen and little amount of food to sustain themselves. Such is the government apathy towards their nurses.
Anguish for our near and dear ones
Getting infected with deadly diseases is just another occupational hazard for nurses. It’s a reality they have come to terms with. Yet their biggest fear is not to bring this deadly virus home and infect their loved ones, their children or old parents, who may already be striving with other comorbidities like diabetes or asthma which might prove a death sentence for them. Safety of their near and dear ones is the biggest cause of stress affecting their mental health.
Financial hardships during pandemic
Although nurses are one of the most indispensable workforces at the moment trying hard to flatten the curve with significant interventions and innovations, yet the lockdown has negatively impacted nurses too financially like others. There have been pay cuts, even to those already on meagre salaries citing financial constraints of employers. Many nurses working on a contract basis or ad hoc have not even received their salaries due to non-renewal of their contract during the lockdown. Some have been denied salaries during their quarantine period. Even the central government froze dearness allowance hike for all its employees including healthcare professionals who are busy building stronger defences, risking their lives amid many disruptions.
Stigma of being a covid warrior
Despite the mainstream media applauding healthcare workers for their sacrifices and social media is flooded with videos and posts hailing healthcare workers as ‘heroes’, they have been pushed to edges. They are being looked upon as ‘super spreaders’. Socially ostracized, they are constantly under the threat of being assaulted by their own neighbours and self-appointed vigilantes. In many parts of the country, nurses were asked to vacate their rented houses. In Maharashtra, an entire building was leased by the government to house its nurses involved in COVID care which was later forcibly and abruptly vacated by people in nearby buildings. They were not even allowed to collect their valuables. Sometime back there was a malicious video doing the rounds in the same state where somebody is whining about nurses not reporting to work. I fail to understand as to what do they expect when their administration, government and even local people do nothing to support but harass them instead.
There is a stigma associated with working in COVID wards where one is seen as a potential spreader. There have been assaults on various healthcare workers ranging from doctors, nurses, ANMs and Asha workers who had ventured out into the community just to screen people. To add to that, some male nurses also have been beaten up by police and blamed for spreading the infection.
Toxic work culture – Nothing new though
Exploitation and discrimination at the hands of your management demoralize you even more. Nurses in a pioneer institute in Delhi have been protesting as to how they were being discriminated in their own institution. They have been barred from entering certain premises in their hospital including canteens and are reserved exclusively for doctors now which they previously had access to. Even ‘donning’ and ‘doffing’ areas are separate for doctors and other staff. Nurses have to wait long hours outside the doffing areas waiting for their turn while the ones for doctors remain empty most of the time. Many administrative buildings in many hospitals have been completely shut off for their nursing staff. Even their own superiors treat them like ‘untouchables’ not letting them enter their offices. Some private players have even gone to the extent of filing police complaints, against their nurses leaving their jobs, of ‘abandoning their patients’. During the lockdown, a news article reported about a nursing college in Maharashtra whose students were forced to go for patient screening in the community without any protective gears and just a single surgical face mask. Many cases have been reported throughout India where genuine demands to provide adequate safety measures were frowned and ridiculed by their superiors.
Need of the hour
The attrition rate has always been high in nursing in India. Not being paid well, lack of growth opportunities, mental harassment, toxic work culture, discrimination are just some of the reasons for this. But these are just the tip of an iceberg. This pandemic has exposed the rot in our healthcare industry. Its time people realize the worth of nursing professionals in our country and work to fix these issues else there won’t be any takers for this profession.
Post-COVID, a greater storm awaits us – the surge of patients rushing to hospitals for various complications who are currently under home observation as COVID 19 has disrupted care and treatment for many patients. While healthcare professionals bring the healthcare system from survival to revival mode, it is expected of the government to learn their lessons from the ramifications of this crisis and bolster their efforts to turn a crippling healthcare system to a resilient one. This must prove to be a wake-up call for all nations in the world who have so far been stock pilling arms and ammunition instead of building rock-solid public health structures.