Ignorance and inward-looking attitude of many civil organisations is leading to unwanted developments predicted to spell dangers for the entire state in Manipur’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic. Local communities are now resorting to putting up drop gates and barriers to not only prohibit entries of outsiders into their areas for fear they may bring the virus, but are prohibiting frontline health workers from leaving their localities, or if they have already left for work, then from returning home.
This is forcing many frontline workers to either stay in temporary shelters near their places of work or else resign from their jobs. Predictably, this can spell disaster for the entire state in its fight against the pandemic, and calls for urgent official intervention. Faced with this unexpected situation, some private hospitals are already suffering from acute staff shortages and have begun issuing advertisements for fresh recruitment.
All these are happening even as Manipur seemingly has entered the initial stage of community transmission of COVID-19, though officially not announced yet, and the number of COVID-19 cases have risen to 4198 cases with at least 13 deaths as of August 14, a number of health care workers have quit their jobs in private hospitals and health care facilities of Manipur as they are being harassed by locality people on their Covid-19 status.
While hospitals in Indian metropolitan cities are also struggling to meet the demand for healthcare workers caused by the daily spike in Covid-19 cases, health care workers in Manipur are having a hard time discharging their duties since they face daily problems in their movement from home to hospital and back home after duty. There are reports that health care workers have not been allowed to enter their locality on return home from their duties in hospitals and health care facilities.
When the first COVID-19 case was detected in March in Manipur at the beginning of the lockdown, people were afraid and blocked the roads as if COVID-19 could be avoided by installing drop gates and fencing on roads leading to the entrance of the localities. However, such unscientific and unreasonable actions of the people, arising from ignorance, seemed to have stopped as Manipur became COVID-19 green zone after the first two COVID-19 patients were cured.
Unfortunately, the hapless and ignorant people who have been under lockdown for about five months now have resorted again to installing drop gates and fencing on the roads leading to their locality since COVID-19 positive cases have now been detected amongst people other than the returnees. Such ignorant actions have become common sights in many places in the state since Manipur entered the stage of community transmission of COVID-19, not officially announced at the moment though, and could be described as a setback to the efforts of the state government as well as disconcerting for the populace.
There is a complete lack of trust within the community and misconceptions have caused a fear today that health care workers might have got COVID-19 infection from patients and may spread it in their locality. This speculation arises from the fact that health care workers including doctors and nurses working in hospitals and health care facilities have previously tested COVID-19 positive even though they are not working in COVID-19 dedicated wards or hospitals.
Reports said that a nurse of the RIMS who is not COVID-19 positive has not been allowed to stay in her home by her in-laws. On trying to stay at her parental home the Leikai asked her to do home quarantine if she wants to stay there.
Another report said that some staff of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) have desisted from returning home as they are denied entry into their locality and home and are presently taking shelter in the hospital.
Since Leikai (locality) has stopped them from staying at their rented houses, they are now staying at a school in another place with the understanding and cooperation of the local club, and attending hospital for duty, Shija Caregivers told FPSJ Review. “As our home doesn’t allow it, I am now living at my parental home and coming to hospital for duty,” a nurse added. A number of health care workers have quit their jobs in private hospitals and health care facilities due to the negative response and behaviour of the ignorant Leikai people towards them.
Speaking to FPSJ Review, Dr. Khundongbam Palin, Chairman and Managing Director of Shija Hospitals and Research Institute in Imphal, said 24 health care workers from various departments of Shija Hospitals have resigned due to COVID-19 pandemic even though Shija is a non-Covid hospital.
It may be mentioned that Shija Hospitals and Research Institute is a private health care facility that commands confidence from and caters to people not only from Manipur but also of the Northeast region and neighbouring countries, particularly Myanmar.
The recent rise in COVID-19 cases which has reached 4198 in the state, including 1131 locals and 950 central security personnel, as of August 14, has triggered fear and panic among the public with some of the healthcare workers having been even asked not to return home by the panic stricken locals.
Dr. Palin said the frontline warriors, who are discharging their duties selflessly, are now subjected to discrimination and social stigma. Facing problems in their movement and being denied entry into their locality, some of the hospital’s medical staff has stopped stepping out of their homes while some have been forced to spend nights at a school nearby the hospital to continue their selfless service for the patients, Dr. Palin added.
Some ailing persons who visited the hospital were even forced to take shelter at their acquaintances’ home while some women health care workers are compelled to commute to hospital from their parental home. Over and above this, some shops have even refused to sell their goods to hospital staff. Such irrational treatment is very discouraging and will lower the morale of the frontline warriors in the fight against the contagion, Dr. Palin expressed to FPSJ Review.
While speaking about the ignorance of the people about the COVID-19 and their attitude to patients, Dr. Palin said even a non-Covid patient who has been discharged after operation was denied entry to his home by the locality and he is now taking shelter at Moreh.
Official figures of health care workers who have resigned from other private hospitals due to COVID-19 cannot be ascertained at the time of writing this article.
On a query how the shortage of healthcare workers is being managed after the resignations of 24 staff, Dr. Palin told FPSJ Review that advertisement for new recruitment has been issued. The hospital being a non-Covid hospital many critical patients are being treated with at least 100 dialysis done in a day and there is now shortage of health care workers.
On a query why the health care workers resigned, Dr. Palin said that the reasons are family pressure arising from fear that COVID-19 may infect them, denial of entry into their locality while returning from hospital, and social discrimination by the locals among others. These reflect on the unfounded beliefs, the systemic problems of our society and the failure of our education in inculcating scientific temperament.
They are stepping out of their homes every day to discharge their duties, to fight COVID-19 and to ensure patients with other ailments get their necessary treatment, the doctor says while adding that discrimination, using dismissive languages, and mockery of these selfless workers is totally uncalled for.
On a further query on how the societal problem being faced by the health care workers can be tackled, Dr. Khundongbam Palin told FPSJ Review that the First COVID Social Awareness Campaign in around seven geographical areas will be held for three days from August 17 in the first phase organised by the Association of Healthcare Providers of India (AHPI) in collaboration with People’s Task Force of COVID-19. And if it proves helpful the campaign will be continued to make people aware of COVID-19 and how to treat health care workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health care workers are at a tipping point, near exhaustion; and before they collapse, there is a need to energise them, Dr. Palin added.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics