Care for comradesThe government should drop any pretext and care for the caregivers, who are crucial partners to save lives.
It has been a month of mayhem with record surges in new infections and deaths, as new variants of the coronavirus continue to ravage Nepal, not sparing even the remote countryside where it will be more than daunting to break the chain of transmission and save lives in the weeks ahead with fewer resources at hand. It is the worst humanitarian crisis of our times, made further acute by lack of precautions and preparedness, and government inaction. Out of beds, out of medical oxygen and out of human resources, the public has been left to scramble and save lives on its own while the leadership continues to misplace priorities amid a deadlier second wave of the pandemic.
We have witnessed how each passing day in May brought suffering and pain as the infected lay outside hospitals gasping for breath, and members of the army paid the final respects to the deceased before mass cremation at Pashupati; but the sheer horror of Covid-19 that has pummelled the country remains invisible. At the Covid ward of hospitals, where the struggle for life is an ongoing battle, fear, burnout, trauma and grief have become commonplace. It will be an understatement to say that health workers have been at the forefront of treating and caring for those who have been infected and developed severe conditions. They are working overtime and are under immense pressure as they manage the risks of acquiring the virus in a high exposure zone while relieving people from suffering and saving lives.
The pandemic has put into perspective how important health workers are, and without whom, even a robust health system could falter. If it weren’t for the undying sacrifice of our health workers who put their lives at risk every minute, Nepal’s situation could have been far worse. But a second year into the pandemic, the rightful concerns of health workers continue to fall on deaf ears. Worldwide, governments have introduced a range of measures to support health workers, equipping them with personal protective equipment to do their job safely or provide financial and mental health support and further incentives. The Oli administration, too, had announced last year that it would give risk and encouragement allowances to health workers, including other frontline staff, but the welcome gesture remains an announcement as the fiscal year comes to an end. Health workers have instead been handed advisories to use protective gear “rationally” and, in some places, are making do with improvised protective gowns.
How the state continues to ignore and treat our health workers when they have the biggest responsibility is disgraceful. It just shows how the government announcement was made in an ad hoc manner with little intention to follow through and release funds timely and as required. Or why would health workers repeatedly complain about their unpaid salaries and allowances? The pandemic in the hands of an incompetent administration has not just put health workers at enormous risks, but they’ve also been handed false promises. It is unacceptable that health workers are deprived of their rightful allowances and other incentives. The government must, without delay, release due salaries and allowances in full while ensuring that they have the environment and the resources to work safely and professionally.
Thousands of health workers across the country have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic took hold last year, and the fraternity continues to lose their comrades in the second wave. Besides the unimaginable personal loss to family and friends, it is an immeasurable loss to our society when a health worker succumbs to what is otherwise a completely preventable situation. The government should drop any pretext and care for the caregivers, who are crucial partners to save lives and contain the pandemic.