Healthcare workers have been at the forefront of the grim battle India has been waging against Covid-19 since early 2020. Constituting the most significant high-risk group, these frontline warriors were the first to receive the jab after the vaccination drive was launched in January this year. In the subsequent months, particularly April and May, more than 250 doctors have succumbed to the second wave of the pandemic, according to the Indian Medical Association (IMA). The casualties include both veteran and young medical practitioners: from 62-year-old Padma Shri Awardee Dr KK Aggarwal, who had been posting instructive videos on social media and holding teleconsultation with patients, to covid struck medics.
In a nation where estimated doctor-patient ratio is 1:1,700, far less than the WHO-mandated 1:1,000, the death of scores of doctors portends deeper trouble for the already overstretched healthcare system. Only two-thirds of India’s health workers have been fully vaccinated till now. Can the protectors do their job properly when they are themselves unprotected against the virus?
The IMA has stated that barely three per cent of the doctors who died this year had received both the shots. There is no doubt that the authorities have been found wanting in ensuring vaccine compliance for this vulnerable section. Last year, 748 doctors had died during the first wave. Unless the vaccination gaps are plugged promptly, the toll might go up sharply in 2021 as the second wave’s fatality rate remains high and the third one is looming large.
Another high-risk group, comprising crematorium workers, has escaped the attention of Central and state governments. Toiling under hazardous conditions without PPE kits, they have been cremating bodies of Covid victims on a daily basis.
The least that can be done is to frame a compensation policy for those who are eking out a living in the shadow of death.
(Dr Naresh Purohit is advisor to the National Communicable Disease Control Programme. He is also Advisor to six other National Health Programmes. He is visiting Professor in five Medical Universities of Southern India including Thrissur based Kerala University of Health Sciences. (The views and opinion expressed in this article are those of the author)