Health workers becoming source of coronavirus spread

Updated 28 Apr 2020

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Dr Zubair of PDA (not pictured) flays govt for providing PPEs to only the medics dealing with Covid-19 patients. — AFP/File
Dr Zubair of PDA (not pictured) flays govt for providing PPEs to only the medics dealing with Covid-19 patients. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: Health workers are becoming source of spreading Covid-19 as they come across asymptomatic patients, getting infected unknowingly and move around in hospitals due to shortage of personal protective equipment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says Provincial Doctors Association.

“The healthcare providers are now becoming the sources of Covid-19, as they move around in hospitals, not knowing that the patient they have examined is positive or not,” Dr Zubair Mahsud, the chairman of Provincial Doctors Association, told Dawn.

He said that government’s policy to provide PPEs to health workers specifically involved in management of Covid-19 patients was causing infection to doctors, nurses and paramedics, who came into contact with asymptomatic patients.

Dr Zubair said that owing to shortage of PPEs in international market, amid soaring global demand caused by pandemic, the government was protecting staff working in Covid-19 isolation and intensive care units but the infection was spreading among workers in general OPDs and wards because there was no proper mechanism to deal with patients with other diseases coming to hospitals for treatment, many of whom were positive but asymptomatic.

Dr Zubair of PDA flays govt for providing PPEs to only the medics dealing with Covid-19 patients

“The World Health Organisation says that suspected Covid-19 patients should be examined in a separate setup outside the hospitals,” said the PDA chief.

He said that signs and symptoms in Covid-19 patients appeared within 14 days due to which patients with non-corona illnesses entered the OPDs and transmitted the disease to health workers, who subsequently became source of infection in hospitals, hostels and their homes.

The public health experts say that all the staffers working in Covid-19 ward and ICU must be given separate accommodation besides sending them to two-week quarantine after one-week duty to safeguard them and others.

There are also instances that health workers from government hospitals imported the infection from private hospitals where they worked part time as no positive cases was reported in staff working at triage of hospitals. More often silent carrier of the virus has infected the staffers.

The staffers working in accident and emergency department don’t know about the status of the patients, many of whom are positive due to which they contract infection.

More than 50 doctors and as many other health workers have tested positive in the province, most of them have not dealt Covid-19 patients.

The experts say that there can also be problems with removing PPEs after use by staffers.

They suggest training of staff but say that the best option is to allocate specific area and staff for Covid-19 patients.

If these health workers are infected day by day, then it will be impossible to handle the situation.

The experts say that if government cannot enforce effective lockdown, then health workers should be armed with PPEs as one cannot send army to battlefield without weapons.

The government should have arranged PPEs for all staff as almost 50 days have passed since the crisis has begun, they add.

Dr Rohail Hayat, secretary of Malgari Doctoran, suggests that instead of disposable, re-useable PPEs should be issued to staff by names and they will be responsible for the maintenance of their kits. This will ensure safety of staff and the government will not be required to supply PPEs more often, he adds.

Experts also say that quality of PPEs is not up to the desired level.

Meanwhile, health department is conducting a fast-track study to know the cause of Covid-19 infection among health workers.

“It is not the quality of the PPEs but its irrational use. There are many factors which can cause infection. In personal life, health workers meet asymptomatic people and get exposed to infection.

“A detailed research study is being conducted by experts, the outcome of which will be available within next two days,” a senior health official said.

He said that they sent PPEs to the hospitals directly and inform representatives of the doctors about the same to ensure that the stuff reached the people deployed in hot spots.

He said that 50 per cent staffers worked in private health facilities where PPEs weren’t available that could be also a cause of infection but the contact tracing was a big problem. The health workers also met people in society, at funerals and at social gatherings, he said.

Last week, Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra told a press conference that the government had placed order for PPEs and other machinery worth Rs3.6 billion. “We are getting the supplies and sending the same to hospitals on need basis,” he had said.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2020