Kashmir healthcare workers badly hit by COVID19

Healthcare professionals in Kashmir have borne the brunt of COVID19 pandemic, constituting 2.2 percent of the cases here. The high incidence of infection has raised concerns over the efficacy of PPE as well as the lack of periodic testing for frontline workers.

The death of a doctor at SKIMS Soura on Sunday highlights the risk faced by medical professionals working in hospitals here. Official data by J&K Government reveals that healthcare professionals, doctors, nurses, lab staff and other workers on the frontlines are increasingly testing positive. Till 09 August, 433 healthcare workers in Kashmir division have tested positive, the figures show. Of these, 162 are doctors, and include junior level and senior level both. Over 50 percent of these workers have tested positive in the past one month, 229 since July 09.

While the cumulative total of cases reported in Kashmir till Sunday was 19286. The percentage of healthcare workers among the total cases reported in Kashmir is 2.2 percent.

Prof Parvaiz A Koul, head department of internal and pulmonary medicine at SKIMS said protecting medical professionals was of paramount importance in managing the epidemic. “These are the people who are actually doing the work, treating people and saving lives,” he said while adding that these getting infected in numbers was sure to affect healthcare delivery as well as risk further spread of infection. “They have contact with other healthcare professionals and they also have families back home. They are a high risk group and measures need to be put in place to secure their health,” he said.

The high incidence of infection in healthcare staff has raised concerns amongst medical professionals over the quality of PPE they are provided with while at work. A doctor who has recently recovered from COVID19 infection, while speaking to the Greater Kashmir said the PPE kits were ‘sub-standard’ and tore easily. “Sometimes, while donning, the zipper comes off, or the straps are broken, or it breaks at seams,” he said. He also raised questions about the quality as well as the limited provision of masks that the resident staff is provided with.

A senior medical professional said that while these concerns could not be dismissed without verification from a quality control organization, it was also important to adhere to PPE protocol. “Our doctors and other staff need to be cautious and follow PPE donning and doffing guidelines in letter and spirit,” he said. He said it was also mandatory to ensure that the PPE is available in adequate quantity so that a worker is not forced to reuse a gear after eating, using a washroom, or doing some other activity.

Many doctors have demanded regular testing of all doctors and other staff working in COVID19 areas. “This will help in early identification of an infected person and safeguard his or her health in addition to preventing infection to others,” a resident doctor working at SKIMS Soura said.

Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education, Atal Dulloo, dismissed the ‘misgivings’ regarding PPE kits. He said the PPE kits available in hospitals of J&K were of premier quality and the same were being used across hospitals in India. “The PPEs have been provided by HLL LifeCare free of cost and the company is a premier one,” he said.

He underlined the importance of “donning masks at all times” by healthcare workers to safeguard themselves in a hospital setting. “I understand it gets difficult given the hot weather, but a mask can save many lives,” he said.