OF late, a number of attacks targeting medical staff in hospitals in Karachi and Peshawar have given rise to apprehension amongst healthcare workers. On May 15, a mob vandalised a section of Karachi’s JPMC after attempting to forcibly retrieve the body of a deceased patient who died after contracting the coronavirus. On May 29, the relatives of a 50-year-old woman who tested positive for Covid-19 inflicted damage on Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital after the critically ill patient passed away. Just a few days earlier, dozens of people had vandalised Karachi’s Civil Hospital and attacked doctors, allegedly because the medical staff delayed handing over the body of a Covid-19 patient who died during treatment. The relatives of the deceased patient rejected the test results, while the hospital said the result came out positive after it was under process for some time. Horrifyingly, a female doctor was slapped by a relative of the deceased.
Even as healthcare workers are applauded for their commitment to treating Covid-19 patients across the world and in our own country, these incidents highlight the lack of trust between the public and institutions, as well as the failure to send out the right message. Undoubtedly, the death of a loved one due to Covid-19 or any other reason is painful for the family. But the guidelines from the government say there should be a balance between the rights of the family and the risks of exposure to infection or need for investigating the cause of death. The SOPs may include testing, draining and disinfecting any wounds and suction of nasal and oral passages because there are fears that the lungs of the deceased patient may contain the live virus. These steps take time and are necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to healthcare and mortuary staff. Authorities need to do everything possible to protect healthcare workers who are treating Covid-19 patients at great personal risk. Better security and improved public messaging on the SOPs for deceased patients would be a step in the right direction.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2020