In the war against coronavirus, doctors have taken on the role of soldiers as they go on saving the lives of patients while putting theirs at risk.
Across Pakistan, healthcare professionals are the new heroes. Many doctors, professors and healthcare workers, including paramedics, have lost their lives after being infected by the deadly contagion while performing their duties.
Dr Agha Taj, Hyderabad president of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), said until July 13 the association has compiled a list of 89 doctors who have lost their lives since the outbreak of the pandemic while 19 paramedics have also died in the line of duty.
As is the case with military and law enforcement officials vis-à-vis the war on terror, the federal and provincial governments have announced a ‘shuhada [martyrs] package’ for frontline health workers who have fallen prey to the pandemic. According to the package, the heirs of a deceased are to get Rs3m-Rs10m depending on the pay scale of the deceased.
While the Shuhada Package is yet to take effect, the Sindh government has announced a monthly health risk allowance for healthcare professionals according to their respective grades. Even house officers are entitled to the allowance as they are performing Covid-19 related duties, with each house officer’s pay getting a Rs10,000 monthly bump. Similarly, doctors, technicians and paramedics working in Covid-19 isolation wards would get allowances equivalent to their running basic pay. Those in grades BS 17- 20 and working in areas other than isolation wards would get Rs35,000 per month while those in grades BS 1-16, would be paid Rs17,000.
Criticising the government’s decision to recompense families of only those deceased doctors who were working in isolation wards, Dr Pir Manzoor, general secretary of his own faction of PMA Sindh, said, “What about those exposed to the virus in outpatient departments and emergency services or hospital wards. Aren’t they considered martyrs and won’t they be entitled to a package?”
Working in harsh conditions
While testing or treating coronavirus patients, doctors and paramedics are not only dangerously susceptible to the deadly virus but also have to work in taxing environments by continuously donning the full-body safety suits and masks, regardless of the temperature outside.
“Once you’ve donned the Tyvek suit you can’t simply touch anything as you will be contaminating everything around you,” explained Dr Aftab Hussain Phull, Covid-19 focal person at Liaquat University Hospital Hyderabad — Sindh’s second largest teaching hospital after Karachi.
The Tyvek suit is a form of personal protective equipment (PPE) which a doctor or healthcare worker wears while taking samples of a suspected coronavirus patient or attending to confirmed or suspected patients.
“Sometime the suit makes your breathing difficult and you even tend to speak loudly since it heavily covers your body from head to toe,” he said, adding that on top of that, a plastic face shield covers the entire face down to the neck and under it is an N-95 mask.
“We also use goggles and cap under this suit to avoid infection, considering the massive viral load inside isolation wards,” he stated further.
While it is relatively easier for doctors or healthcare workers operating in air-conditioned wards to work in the suit, to do so while collecting samples from the field under the summer heat is a whole another challenge.
“It is suffocating. The sizzling heat in these months makes us sweat constantly and breathe in difficulty. If we need drinking water or tea we have to have it before dressing up in the suit,” shared Dr Saulat Jafri, an ear, nose and throat specialist in a government hospital in Hyderabad.