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Coronavirus pandemic | India's doctors caught between a rock and a hard place

A doctor on condition of anonymity said he is wary of returning to his home after attending to patients because of inadequate quarantine measures in place.

March 31, 2020 / 03:13 PM IST
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Representative Image

The coronavirus pandemic has managed to send jitters across the medical community and Indian doctors, already battling a creaking healthcare system, are facing the brunt of it.

Fearing that they may infect their families, they are wary of going back to their homes.

"After attending to COVID-19 patients, we don't want to go back home and expose their families to the virus," said a senior doctor, who did not wish to be identified from New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which led to panic among a large number of workers from the unorganised sector, who were suddenly staring at a income crisis.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"If doctors aren't taken care of, it could snowball into a big crisis," the doctor said.

An acute shortage of testing kits marked India's exposure to the coronavirus induced healthcare crisis. Enough testings weren't being done because of a shortage. The Food and Drug Authority (FDA) and the Central Drug Standard Control Authority (CDSCA) authorised Pune-based Mylab Discovery Solutions to manufacture testing kits.

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India's healthcare workers, at the forefront of the war against the virus, are risking their lives in the acute absence of personal protective equipments  (PPE) which include, masks, goggles, gloves and face shields.

The shortage of these equipment, mandatorily required for all health workers screening, testing or treating people for the virus, was flagged both by manufacturers and doctors.

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"The situation is worrying. There's a shortage of PPE at work and after that we have to also carry the risks back home. No healthcare professional wants to do that," the doctor said.

Understanding the gravity of the situation, some state governments have stepped up. On March 30, the Delhi government announced that the doctors treating coronavirus patients at public hospitals Lok Nayak Hospital (LNJP) and GB Pant hospitals would be accommodated at a private hotel on the Delhi government's expense. The order said the accommodation would be provided at the Lalit Hotel in central Delhi.

The Uttar Pradesh state government too announced on the same day that the government would be accommodating healthcare professionals at four five-star hotels - the Hyatt Regency, Lemon Tree, The Piccadily and Fairfield by Marriott. These hotels would be converted into quarantine zones for the medical staff who are in constant contact with the coronavirus patients.

"It's great that there is some kind of movement on this. It has to happen more widely. In all states. There has to be quarantine facilities for healthcare professionals," the doctor said.

Ritesh Agarwal-founded Indian startup OYO Hotels has offered free stays to doctors, nurses in the US helping to help fight against the pandemic. The company is offering free stays to doctors, nurses and other medical first responders.

"If an Indian company can do this in US, what is stopping them from doing the same for medical staff in India?" the doctor said.

About 3,000 healthcare workers in China have been infected, and 22 have died in the process of treating coronavirus patients. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, 44 percent of infected patients in Toronto were healthcare workers.

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Kamalika Ghosh
first published: Mar 31, 2020 03:00 pm

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