As Covid-19 affects healthcare workers, non-Covid patients left in limboAs over 800 health workers, including more than 200 doctors have been infected with coronavirus, public health experts warn of a catastrophe if health workers are not protected.
All services, except for emergency ones, have remained shut for the last two days at Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, after 71 health workers, including over two dozen doctors, tested positive for Covid-19.
Bir, the only the non-Covid public hospital in the Kathmandu Valley, provides patients most of the medical services available in the country. Due to its shutdown, hundreds of ailing people are being deprived of treatment for non-Covid ailments.
Similarly, 31 doctors have been infected with the disease at the National Trauma Center.
According to the Ministry of Health and Population, while around 800 health workers across the country have tested positive for coronavirus, one has died due to Covid-19. Among the infected health workers, more than 200 are doctors. With so many health workers infected, treatment for non-Covid ailments has been stalled at many health facilities.
Public health experts say that rising infections among health care workers is alarming as it signals a shortage of healthcare workers to treat not only patients infected with coronavirus, but also other ailments. They have called on the government to provide better protection for health workers so that they can treat non-Covid patients as well.
“Over 2,500 patients used to visit the out-patient department of our hospital for services at this time,” Dr Rohit Kumar Pokhrel, director at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, another public hospital in the Valley, told the Post. “But only around 150 patients come these days.”
The number of patients seeking emergency services at the hospital has also declined drastically. On a normal day, 500 patients sought emergency services at the hospital, but the number is now down to around 50, mainly due to the lockdown, hospital officials said.
But even with the dwindling number of patients, hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country are faced with shortages of health workers.
“If we fail to pay attention to the growing infection rate among healthcare workers, we will face a critical shortage of health workers to treat both Covid and non-Covid patients,” Dr Dipendra Pandey, former chairman of Government Doctors’ Association of Nepal, told the Post.
The apathy of the government to provide personal protective equipment, face shields, masks, gloves and others are considered the main reasons for growth in infections among healthcare workers. It’s not just the private hospitals, even state-run health facilities haven’t provided adequate safety gear to frontline workers, experts say.
Health workers have complained that they are compelled to use the same masks for over a week and even reuse disposable masks after washing.
While paying attention to Covid-19, authorities concerned have forgotten about thousands of non-covid patients, who need medication, but have been unable to to reach the hospital, doctors say. “People suffering from renal failure need dialysis at least twice a week. They are facing a lot of challenges,” said Dr JP Agrawal, former dean at the Institute of Medicine. “Dialysis centers seek polymerase chain reaction test reports for services and to undergo the test twice a week is impossible.”
Similarly, thousands of patients suffering from chronic ailments—asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, thyroid and others, who need regular follow up checks are also being deprived of medical consultations.
“Chronic patients need to undergo regular tests, medicine used by them needs to be changed now and then,” Dr Bhim Acharya, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “Such patients can die if not monitored their health regularly by their physicians.”
The national Covid-19 tally on Tuesday reached 41,649 with 251 deaths.
The Ministry of Health said that 1,120 people tested positive, and 12 died, in the last 24 hours. The number of positive cases in the Kathmandu Valley has reached 6,593.
Meanwhile, even doctors who got infected while deployed at the Covid-19 frontline are not getting proper treatment. According to the Nepal Medical Association, a doctor, serving at Birat Medical College in Birgunj, infected with Covid-19 is in a critical condition, but is not getting an intensive care unit bed in the city.
“‘We are trying to bring the doctor to Kathmandu,” Dr Lochan Karki, chairman of Nepal Medical Association, an umbrella organization of medical doctors, told the Post.
“Overlooking the growing infection rate among health care workers could be costly for the country. To treat both Covid or non-Covid patients, health workers are needed, we should understand this fact, and implement more stringent measures to protect them.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Population on Wednesday urged retired health workers and others willing to serve voluntarily to contact the ministry.