Published: 26th March 2020
Don't want money, we want protective equipment: Doctors react to CM's offer of a month's salary as COVID-19 bonus
Some PG students have already been exposed and are in quarantine, they want to help but they also want to know if they'll come out of this alive. So now, the question is will they get PPEs in time?
The Tamil Nadu government has announced that doctors, nurses and all other healthcare professionals who are treating COVID-19 patients would be given an extra month's salary. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami made the announcement while also announcing financial relief measures for low-income families. However, while appreciating the government's decision to give the extra month's salary, doctors and activists say it's not enough. What they do need in large measure is personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with the virus.
In this case, life is more important than money, they argue.
When we reached out to a PG student to enquire if he would be willing to speak about the government's new announcement, he said that he has been exposed to three Coronavirus patients in the last week and is currently in quarantine, "I have given my throat swab and am awaiting results. I'm under considerable mental stress, so I'm not in the right frame of mind to speak right now," he told us. Another student, who is also in quarantine was willing to speak to us and when we asked him about the government's new order he said money didn't matter at all at this point of time.
"See, we get into the medical profession to be of some value to society and to help as much as we can. We are coming forward in a situation like this too and wants to help but for that they have to give us a proper working environment. By announcing just the salary, the government has shown that they don't understand the problem at all," he explained. He agrees that the salary would help the doctors' families but if the doctors themselves don't survive this, what was the point?
The entire country is on its second day of complete lockdown
When asked if he feels that the PG students are prepared to take on COVID-19, he said that it was the interns and the PG students who constituted most of the workforce, "We are directed to do the job and we are the ones who do most of the work. But we should feel secure about doing the job. We have to trust the people who are guiding us. And it's not just us who need the masks and equipment — the sanitary workers, the others working in the wards, everyone," he adds.
A notice issued by the Directorate of Medical Education directed the students to get their own personal protective equipment, "Carry hand sanitisers in your coat pockets, do hand washing frequently. Quarantined PGs don't roam anywhere. You should take care of yourself and others - it is your responsibility," the circular read. The last line was in bold, capital letters.
And this is what has rankled the rank and file. The resident compares the current situation to soldiers going to war, "This is like asking soldiers to go to the front but telling them that they have to bring their own weapons from home. A friend of mine is a Type 1 diabetic but he's going to the COVID-19 ward. He called me to ask me about something and mentioned that he was going into the ward. All his friends asked him not to go, saying that he was more prone to getting it but he refused to listen to us. He's one of the top students from my batch. He's one of the brightest doctors we have and he doesn't care about the fact that he has diabetes. That's how we are, we want to help but we want the higher ups and the government to be involved in this process and ensure that we have the needed protection to survive this," he explained.
Community transformation has started in the country, officials have said
Activists in the state are also not too happy with the government's announcement. Dr Ravindranath GR, the general secretary of Doctors' Association For Social Equality and his wife, Dr Shanthi Ravindranath both believe that the government's move is a little late. "After every other state announced measures, the Tamil Nadu government announced this. So I don't know if it's something we can really appreciate," Shanthi said. They agree with the PG students about the money being secondary at this point, "Just a few months ago, almost 15,000 doctors were on protest demanding better pay. That time the government didn't care at all. They didn't address any of the key demands and passed transfer orders for all the doctors who protested. And even though the High Court dismissed the transfers, the government refused to implement it and now suddenly this extra month salary is supposed to satisfy the doctors?" Ravindranath asked.
Shanthi says that the government keeps saying that protective equipment is available but that doesn't seem to be true because nobody seems to have access to it. "They should let us know where to buy it and how much it costs. Only then can we believe that it's actually available. Till then UG, PG students may not have any equipment to protect themselves. But this equipment should be available to everyone, doctors, nurses, sanitary workers to ambulance drivers. only then will it make sense," she added.
The doctor also adds that the government should ensure that doctors, nurses and all individuals involved can take tests for Corona every 14 days. 'With the exponential way in which the cases are rising, it is important that those involved in treatment are safe," she said. She also demanded that the government be transparent about what is happening in the hospitals. "All doctors should have an open grievance redressal cell online where they can voice their concerns and we will know whether or not those concerns have been addressed. W heaven time to waste but we have to ensure that the doctors have what they need to protect themselves," she pointed out.
Without the proper protective equipment, our doctors might fall ill and not be ready for the possible second wave of the virus
"We are making the same mistakes that Italy made. This virus is going to come in waves and even if we are able to tackle the first one, when the second one comes our way. Most doctors will be sick themselves and we would have exhausted all the PPE. Both safety gear and manpower is going to be low and we're not going to be able to fight it as aggressively as we can now," he points out. As an example, the young doctor tells us that in China, the government ensured that doctors only had six hour shifts because they had to remain in PPE the entire time without eating, drinking or using the bathroom. This way they were able to contain the disease and doctors were not exposed long enough to catch it and didn't get exhausted either. "However, when China did issue a lockdown, people ran back home and that's how the disease spread," he tells us.
In Italy, PPE's are not manufactured and the country despite being small and having a good healthcare system in place was not prepared for the virus. "In Singapore and Korea, the government issued strict regulations and kept a trace of those who had come in contact with anyone with COVID-19." But to do all this, the doctors have to be safe and geared up to tackle the virus.