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Don’t Let Their Deaths Go in Vain

Every death is a tragedy. But lessons learnt from each death can help protect others.

More than one thousand doctors have died in India due of Covid, according to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) – over 244 in the second wave itself. The  IMA data may not capture the full situation – IMA has about 3.5 lakh doctors as its members but not all physicians are registered with it.

It is not just doctors. Nurses and other health care workers have also died because of Covid. No one has kept accurate counts of all healthcare worker deaths because of Covid.

For every doctor or nurse who lost the battle against the virus, there are several who managed to recover and come back safely. It is not clear whether the infections and the recoveries and deaths of India’s healthcare workers are being studied and examined carefully by any central or even state level bodies.

Many of the doctors and nurses, who have died in the second wave had been given at least one dose of the vaccine. Some of them had taken both doses. Some of them were old and had co-morbidities. Others were young and generally considered to be in good health before they caught the virus and succumbed.

Healthcare workers, especially those, who are at the forefront of the battle against Covid are exposed to risks every day. Despite all precautions they take and the PPEs they may wear, they are consistently exposed to greater viral loads than the normal worker. They also work sometimes for 24-36 or even more hours at a stretch and without enough time to recover. They work under extreme stress in normal times but Covid has increased that stress exponentially.

It is well known that no vaccine offers 100% protection and there will be some breakthrough infections. And also that breakthrough infections are most likely to be seen in those who are exposed to be virus daily. But it is important to know why some doctors got the infections and others managed to escape it despite working in similar conditions. Was one vaccine more effective than another? Did the quality of PPE make a difference? Could some better quality of PPE protect them more? Did Covid protocols  being followed by different hospitals have anything to do with it? Were there some co morbidities that should have been especially monitored?

Every death is a tragedy and each one needs to be studied to see learn lessons on protecting those still alive. The deaths of healthcare workers are important to track for two reasons. First, we have too few of them and we cannot afford to lose them in this battle. Two, each case of infection of a doctor in a hospital or nursing home can be better monitored and studied for lessons on how to protect them – and the general population better.

Somebody in the government needs to understand that.

Prosenjit Datta

Prosenjit Datta is former editor of Businessworld and Business Today magazines

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