Two years since Delhi recorded its first case of Covid-19, several doctors, nurses, paramedics and frontline workers said healthcare services have improved greatly from the initial days when they battled the virus with limited protective gear and amid worries of personal safety and the well-being of their families.
Dr Amit Malviya, a senior resident doctor (anaesthesiology) and president of the resident doctors’ association at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said when the Covid infection came to the Capital, doctors were “a little unprepared” to manage the infection. Many worked with limited protective gear, long work hours while also being uncertain of their own safety and the safety of their families, he said.
“The situation of Covid management has improved gradually since the first wave. In the first few months, we were a little taken aback by the nature of the virus. Many were also scared for their own safety and the safety of their families; some had to stay away from their families for months because of the highly contagious nature of the virus. In the initial period, there was also a shortage of protective equipment. But now things have improved a lot. We will need to take lessons from our experience with each Covid wave and make things better,” said Dr Malviya.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said in May last year that 270 doctors across the country succumbed to Covid in the second wave alone. According to the medical body, Bihar saw the maximum number of 78 deaths of medical practitioners, followed by Uttar Pradesh (37), Delhi (29) and Andhra Pradesh (22). They also said that in 2020, 748 doctors had died of Covid.
Nurses and paramedics also said that the initial period of the pandemic was “a nightmare”.
A nurse at Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital said that nurses and other supporting frontline staff were also not given enough credit for their efforts.
“I am not saying that doctors do not deserve the praise, but it was the nurses and the sanitation staff who interacted with the patients on a regular basis and was at the highest risk of contracting the infection. I remember, I had to send my husband and my two-year-old child to my hometown for a year so that I wouldn’t infect them,” she said, asking not to be named.
Many nurses were also forced to quit their jobs because of the high demand at work.
“My father passed away from Covid and I asked for leave to go home. Within a week, I was called back. My requested to extend my leave, because my mother had also fallen ill, was also denied. I had no other option but to resign,” said Sibin Daniel, who worked as a nurse at a private hospital in Delhi.
Healthcare experts said that Covid-19 was a “big leveller” and people, irrespective of their age and economic background, were equally affected by the virus.
“We realised that health infrastructure needs to really improve. Delhi, despite having one of the best health infrastructure in the entire country, also suffered especially during the second wave. This infection has also made people more disciplined — the practice of hand washing and hygiene have turned into our core routines. It was a very traumatic time for us, it took a toll on many doctors but we sailed through,” said Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant (internal medicine), Apollo Hospital.