With the death of 26-year-old physician Dr Osama Riaz, the first Pakistani doctor to die from coronavirus, it has become clear that there is an immediate need to take the protection of doctors, health workers, and paramedical staff as a priority. Dr Riaz had contracted the virus while physically handling Covid-19 patients who had returned to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) from overseas and other parts of Pakistan. While it is strongly suggested that Dr Riaz be awarded the highest civilian award for his sacrifice and a substantial monetary compensation be given to his family, such measures can only serve as a partial token of appreciation. There is much more that needs to be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again. Over 2000 pilgrims had returned to GB from Iran via the quarantine facility at Taftan but still no proper screening was done at Taftan and over 80 of them have been found to be infected. So, now what is to be done to protect our health workers?
Five elementary protections are as follows: N95 masks, protective gowns, gloves, face shields, and scrubs. While common people can use ordinary masks to protect them, for medical staff N95 masks are an absolute must. These masks are highly recommended to be included in protective kits for all medical staff as they are a first defence from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. We have seen in Pakistan that many doctors and health workers are using ordinary masks that are not good enough for those who are regularly in contact with the affected people. Since the pandemic is likely to last for many weeks or maybe even months, there is an urgent need to distribute N95 masks to all our healthcare professionals. There are over 200 thousand doctors in Pakistan and at least around a million healthcare workers. And if we fail to give them the masks we may start losing our heroes in the field. Then there are gowns and gloves that need to be distributed on a mass scale.
It is good that China has reportedly sent over a million items including gowns, gloves, and masks. There is also a need to arrange regular cleaning and washing of facilities, equipment, and other reusable protective gear such as gowns. They get infected and cannot be used without washing again. If our healthcare workers run out of clean protective equipment, they cannot treat people with Covid-19. Healthcare workers such as nurses and ward attendants cannot enter patients’ rooms to give them medication, meals or even put breathing tubes in or provide them with any type of care, unless they themselves are fully protected. These people are our heroes and must be appreciated, protected and respected. The foremost responsibility for this lies with the state, but of course private entities and individuals are also needed at this time to contribute in whatever way they can to help our heroes on the frontline of the struggle against Covid-19.