Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


As Political Drama Subsides, it is Time to Pay Attention to the Fate of Health Workers and Volunteers

Do we still have the same Health Minister after the political drama of a week ago? The Covid 19 pandemic that is fast going off the rails in Manipur actually took a backseat thanks to the churn in the political arena. Considering that the Health Minister in the state Government has publicly stated that he was not given much of a space to give his inputs into addressing the pandemic and the new developments on the Covid 19 scene in Manipur, one can only hope that the fissures are ironed out and strategic efforts are now made to contain further spread and escalation.
Manipur must surely be one of the few places in the country today where quarantine centers have become the new containment spots. The lack of physical spacing at the quarantine centers, not providing masks to those staying at the center or to the staff and volunteers, not demonstrating the correct way of using and disposing or reusing masks (in case of the cloth varieties), not following safety protocols for disposal of waste from such camps and lack of disinfecting the camps at least twice a day all go towards creative an environment for the transmission of Covid 19 infection. The announcement of Quarantine Centers as ‘Containment Zones’ in Manipur after a considerable number of cases are reported positive for Covid 19 in between will not help in any way till contact list of the cases are mapped, identified, traced and tested. Till the time, all volunteers, all the people who visit such centers and all staff are tested for Covid 19 including at risk age people who have been exposed to these group of people, no amount of marking off Quarantine centers as no entry points is going to work. The one backbone of marking off containment zones is to map out who have had access to the said spot and then test those who might be at risk while restricting entry and exit of any people who are at risk themselves and who may well put others at risk.
An additional worrying factor with the surge in Covid 19 cases in the state is that there is the matter of health care personnel battling exhaustion, largely unknown by the public in general and not really taken into consideration by the administrative heads in the Health Department. The nature of wearing PPE suits and what it entails has been touched upon earlier as also the critical need for rationing duty hours but going by what sources are telling me on the ground, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses who are willing to be on Covid 19 duty with quite a few cases where doctors and nurses called in from the Health Department to put in duty hours are Covid centers have used the clout of their family and VIP connections not to report for duty but passed the responsibility on to another colleague.
The PPE suits that medical staff wear when taking care of Covid patients are not something that is recommended to be put in use for more than 6 hrs maximum and when a health staff wears it, he/she has to forego going to the toilet or eating or even drinking water for that long a duration. Any medical staff made to wear a PPE suit beyond this duration is at risk of Covid infection for the suit starts getting wet with sweat, thereby lowering the level of protection from Coronavirus. More medical staff becoming Covid positive is going to mean lesser staff on hand to look into the treatment of others, not to mention the fact that it leads to a low morale amongst those who have been providing medical care and attention while remaining largely unappreciated. It is a vicious cycle really: more Covid positive patients will mean more strain on the working hours of medical professionals involved which will lead to additional longer hours that might put them at risk to getting infected themselves. The reality on the ground in Manipur as per sources is that health staff being pulled in for Covid duty are being asked to put in duty in a team of two doctors and two nurses for an entire Covid facility for the period of an entire week to be followed by a quarantine period of two weeks. This effectively means that this set of two doctors and nurses will be either be on their feet for 24 hours every day for an entire week or work in a roster of one doctor and one nurse BUT for the entire Covid facility and not one Covid patient!
Till the time, there is a plan of action to bring in more doctors and nurses in the fight against Covid 19 in the state, there is no way this situation is going to get resolved by itself. To start with, the Government needs to make it compulsory for those whose names are in the duty list to report for duty. An additional measure would be definitely to bring in either doctors and nurses from the private hospital sector in the state or to make use of the resources of the many nurses who headed back to the state from other parts of the country and give due financial packages and insurance. A radical step would be to give a call to doctors and nurses with the required qualifications but who are not yet employed in Government set ups, and give them written assurance for Government posts in the future when vacancies arise. This might not be practical for those who profit from the job calls and applications in the Government health sector but will open doors for those seeking Government service in the medical sector. Additionally, the Government would be able to plug in the lack of medical staff right now. Desperate times call for desperate measures: we saw that in the political arena. The spotlight is now back on the Government: What actual strategies are going to be adopted to address the Covid 19 situation unfolding in Manipur?

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