Protecting India’s brave healthcare workers: analysis
Two doctors, Zakiya Syed and Trupti Katdare, who were stoned by a mob in a dense settlement in Indore, returned to the scene a day later along with their team of health workers to screen people for the coronavirus disease ( Covid-19) “I am hurt, but I am not afraid at all. This will not prevent me from doing my duty, “said the intrepid coronavirus warrior, Dr. Syed.
Responding swiftly to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) strike call against such attacks on health workers, the Union government on Wednesday passed an ordinance to amend and strengthen the Indian Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, which offends the doctors. and recognizable, non-salvageable nurses with prison terms of six months to seven years. Previously distressed by a series of such attacks on hospitals and test areas, the IMA called for a two-day strike by doctors on April 22 and 23. Only after the security of the Union Interior Minister was the strike suspended. .
The warriors of the Crown, at the forefront of our battle against the pandemic, have a stupendous job at hand. In hospitals, they are treating patients, while outside they are evaluating possible cases of Covid-19, putting their lives at risk. Several of them have already contracted the coronavirus. According to the available reports, 1,700 health workers in China were infected with the coronavirus. Throughout the world, many doctors and nurses have died fighting the disease.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly reserved the highest praise for India’s doctors, nurses and other health workers by calling them front-line soldiers. And yet, distressing reports continued to come in of doctors and health workers attacked on duty. Even the international media took note and mentioned that such attacks have been witnessed from Australia to the Philippines, but none with the severity seen in India.
Will a harsh law act as a deterrent? Yes, if an enabling environment is created, through complementary measures for its implementation. Two issues, the police shortage and, more importantly, the speed of response, are critical. Therefore, some additional measures are essential.
First, hospitals must be firmly insured. Rather than deploying scarce police officers to hospitals, the government should designate Special Police Officers (SPOs) for each hospital. The provision for the appointment of SPO is given in Section 17 of the Police Law, which can be invoked in an emergency moment to compensate for the shortage of police personnel. However, each hospital has several private security guards, who can be designated as SPOs. Once declared an SPO, they have the powers of the police and can work in the same way. In the event of attacks on doctors and nurses, they can take immediate action. A liaison officer from the local police station can be designated for each hospital for coordination. This will raise the morale and confidence of doctors, and will give order to procedures in hospitals. SPOs should receive personal protective equipment (PPE) and armbands to act fearlessly in times of need. A fee can be set for them for the time they perform tasks like SPO.
In rural areas, the village Kotwals SPOs must be done. Odisha’s prime minister has already made a landmark decision to grant collector powers to sarpanches to enforce quarantine measures. Empowering panchayats and local agencies will help fight the epidemic better, and other states should follow Odisha’s model.
Second, doctors have demanded safety at home and while traveling to and from work. Some overly jealous residents welfare association (RWA) office bearers have shown hostility towards resident doctors treating Covid-19 patients, while some have been attacked outside of hospitals. Arrangements should be made for health workers who require temporary accommodation and transportation. Some hotels have already volunteered to host them in their places. More guesthouses and public places need to be requisitioned to accommodate all those who want these facilities. In addition, a team of police, municipal and revenue officials must warn and control these RWA officials against any move to expel doctors from society facilities and, if necessary, take severe measures. Such doctors should also receive help lines to contact if necessary.
Third, physicians’ demand for high-risk subsidy during this unprecedented period must be accepted. The Delhi government has announced compensation of Rs 1 crore for the family of a fallen crown warrior, which includes not only doctors but also police and others fighting the pandemic. Such a move should be emulated by other states as well.
Fourth, a clear message must be sent from state governments against those who attack lifeguards. To address the problem of group attacks, where health teams go for check-ups, the National Security Law can also be used. The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have used it in the event of attacks on doctors and police in Indore and Moradabad, respectively. The arrest figures under the above laws are compiled at the state and central levels on a daily basis. These statistics should be projected into the daily vernacular media to show the government’s intention and deter rioters.
Fifth, states have to prepare for a future scenario when the blockade is gradually eased and hot spots must be contained and monitored. Extensive evaluation will be required. Groups of municipal, police and revenue officials should approach the groups to be covered to dispel any rumors about the testing methodology or the condition of the quarantine centers. Each police station has a list of opinion leaders from the areas and should be used for such exercises.
And finally, authorities will need to closely monitor social media, as it is often the site of hate speech and rumors. Some of your accounts will require forced closure and action against some to deliver the right message to social media users.
Yashovardhan Azad is a former IPS official and Central Information Commissioner
The opinions expressed are personal.