Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 438

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Protection for protectors: On safety of healthcare workers

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Since the first case of novel coronavirus infection in India was reported in end-January, many healthcare workers have been subjected to abuse and violence in the line of duty. Most of the attacks have been on healthcare personnel sent to localities to collect samples from people who are suspected to have been infected or have come in contact with those who have tested positive for the virus. Some doctors returning home from duty have been prevented from entering their homes and in some cases, even asked to vacate their premises ( a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context).

While such acts have been widely condemned ( officially declared unfit for use), nothing much changed on the ground. The dastardly ( wicked and cruel) act of a few people in Chennai who not only attacked healthcare workers but also prevented a decent burial of a neurosurgeon who died of COVID-19 complications on April 19 shook the nation’s conscience.

Though belated, the Union Cabinet’s decision to promulgate ( promote or make widely known (an idea or cause)) an ordinance ( an authoritative order) to amend ( make minor changes to (a text, piece of legislation, etc.) in order to make it fairer or more accurate, or to reflect changing circumstances) the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to make acts of violence against medical personnel a cognisable ( within the jurisdiction of a court) and non-bailable offence and also provide compensation in case of injury or damage or loss to property is thus commendable ( deserving praise ; praiseworthy).

Very often, the abuse and violence against healthcare workers after the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country has been due to fear and ignorance. The communal colour given to the COVID-19 epidemic after the large religious congregation ( a group of people assembled for religious worship) was held in mid-March by the Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin, Delhi initially led many in the community to avoid coming forward to get tested.

In many cases, the fear of stigma and isolation resulted in attacks on healthcare workers who had gone to collect samples from those who were part of this congregation. In other instances, the wrong messaging that getting infected by the virus meant certain death, in order to achieve maximum compliance ( the state or fact of according with or meeting rules or standards) with the shutdown, unwittingly led to a fear psychosis.

Negative messaging, especially of the kind that induces fear and stigma, has always been counterproductive ( having the opposite of the desired effect), as seen in the early days of the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the country. Awareness-building exercises became easier and more effective when negative messaging and stereotyping about HIV/AIDS was shunned ( persistently avoided, ignored, or rejected).

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are forced to work long hours treating patients infected with the highly infectious virus, and even when protective gear in the form of gloves, face mask and personal protective equipment are scarce ( (especially of food, money, or some other resource) insufficient for the demand), need more empathy, compassion, unmitigated ( absolute; unqualified) support and cooperation from the society. Symbolic gestures such as clapping hands and lighting candles in recognition of their selfless service during these trying times do not bolster ( support or strengthen) their morale ( the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time) as much as understanding and support does.

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