“It has been brought to our notice from residents of various departments that the residents attending patients who are suspected to have corona virus disease as well as the suspected resident are working without PPE gears,” the Resident Doctors’ Association of King George’s Medical University, Lucknow, wrote in a letter dated 23 March. The letter was addressed to MLB Bhatt, the university’s vice chancellor and signed by Dr Rahul Bharat and Dr Mohammad Tariq Abbas, the association’s president and general secretary respectively. In it, the association requested that the vice chancellor provide personal protective equipment, or PPE, without delay. “We residents are scared in such working conditions causing emotional and psychological stress,” the association wrote. It specified that a dearth of such gear “threatens exposure and community spread” of COVID-19.
I spoke to health workers in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. According to them, paramedical workers are facing a shortage of PPE kits in almost all hospitals in Lucknow and in some hospitals, even doctors do not have sufficient number of kits. This shortage is prevalent in Lucknow’s KGMU and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences, they said. Since health workers come in contact with hundreds of patients every day, they are at a risk of getting infected without protective gears. But hospital administrations have been unable to provide the number of kits that are required.
The situation appears to be the same in many other regions of the country. Though the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appealed to the country to thank health workers, who are on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19, the government has failed to change their bleak situation on the ground.
KGMU employs around ten thousand paramedical workers. Of these, around two thousand and two hundred and forty four are permanent staffers, six thousand five hundred have temporary jobs and approximately one thousand are administrative employees. Employees of KGMU told me that several temporary workers have stopped coming to work due to lack of PPE kits.
The workers’ union of KGMU has alleged that the administration is negligent about the safety of its employees. “Paramedical staff has no option but to use three-layered masks for eight to ten hours, when they are effective for just six hours,” Pradeep Gangwar, the union’s president, told me. “We are ready to give our full support to the university, but it will not be possible for us to work without protective kits.”