Andhra lab technicians wage frontline pandemic fight 

Wearing PPE, they work for nearly eight hours a day testing thousands of samples that are arriving at Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratories (VRDLs) in the State without any break.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

ANANTAPUR: While doctors, nurses, sanitation workers and police are considered as frontline workers, there is another section of people, which is at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. Lab technicians who stay behind the curtains play a major role in the detection of coronavirus cases. 

Wearing PPE, they work for nearly eight hours a day testing thousands of samples that are arriving at Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratories (VRDLs) in the State without any break. Back home, their family members are scared even to meet them. “Whenever a sample tests positive, we feel a little scared as we may also contract the virus,” said a lab technician working in Anantapur VRDL. 

Despite stigma, lab technicians battle coronavirus

This, however, is not a deterrent for them to discharge their duties with dedication. In the five sample testing centres (one VRDL at Government General Hospital and four TrueNat centres) in Anantapur, 106 lab technicians are working in three shifts. “I have been in the field for the past 18 years and I never faced this kind of difficult situation,” explained Sunitha, a lab technician at TrueNat testing centre in GGH. For her, even visiting her mother, who stays in her brother’s house in the neighbourhood, has now become a problem.

“My mother wants me to visit her frequently, but my brother’s family is a little sceptical about my visit. My immediate family members are distancing themselves from me,” she narrated the stigma that she is facing because of involving in Covid-19 sample testing.  “I even advised my daughter, who is studying Class X, to go to my elder daughter’s home in Bellary. She is reluctant and brave enough that she wants to stay with me at this difficult time,” Sunitha said.  She further said, “One of my colleagues works in TrueNat centre at the Rural Development Trust (RDT) at Bathalapalli. She shuttles between Anantapur and Bathalapalli daily.

Whenever she leaves or returns home, her house owner has started sanitising the entire house causing major embarrassment to her. She decided to stay at the RDT itself and stopped going to her house.” 
After working for 10 days at a stretch, lab technicians will be given leave for a few days. “As we are literally boycotted by others, we stay isolated during that period,” Sunitha said, adding that in spite of all the odds, she feels satisfied about her job as it is a crisis situation and they need to rise to the occasion.

Another lab technician Nanda Kumar with 76 per cent of physical disability, who moves on a tricycle, said that they get exhausted after working for eight hours at a stretch wearing PPE, gloves and face mask. “If any sample tests positive, the first thing that comes in my mind is about the safety of my wife and children,” he said. Lab technicians have to endure long hours wearing PPEs and other protective gear. They get sanitised half an hour before they actually start work.

After wearing a PPE, a lab technician is not supposed to remove it till the end of shift as the PPE should be discarded once he or she comes out of the lab. Lab technicians do not take even water before the shift as a precautionary measure so that they do not feel the necessity to attend nature’s call. Once the shift ends, the PPE and other protective gear need to be disinfected properly. They get sanitised once again and then only they will leave for home.    With several lab technicians getting stigmatised by the society as well as their family members, the authorities have made arrangements for their stay at the testing centres.

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The New Indian Express