THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The attack on health workers in the coastal hamlet of Poonthura in Thiruvananthapuram might have been condemned widely, but the medical fraternity says the incident is just one of many.
Healthcare workers are battling fear, depression, insomnia, burnout and social ostracism even as they remain at the forefront of the battle against coronavirus.
Collectives like the Kerala Government Medical Officers' Association (KGMOA) warn that should such issues go unchecked, worst-case scenarios like suicides among health workers may also crop up amid the public emergency.
"The societal response to healthcare workers is disheartening," KGMOA state president Dr Joseph Chacko.
"The incident at Poonthura is only the tip of the iceberg. At many places, they are facing discrimination and even ostracism. Doubling the stress are work-related risks. Many are taking medication for depression and anxiety. We are not that far from hearing reports on suicides by health workers because of COVID-related stress."
An officer with the health department said the intense and demanding work around COVID prevention and control activities has drained health workers physically and emotionally.
"Healthcare workers, including field staff, have become indispensable in the fight against COVID-19. The high risk of infection, coupled with stigmatisation and understaffing, is affecting the mental health of healthcare workers. A strategy is yet to be developed to address the issues arising from exhaustion," the officer said.
Documents accessed by The New Indian Express reveal the state government is also tracking the issue. On July 1, during a high-level meeting chaired by the chief minister, principal health secretary Rajan Khobragade highlighted the continuous nature of the work healthcare workers were involved in and the resultant problems.
One of the solutions BEING suggested is the implementation of a rotation system and the other is using the AYUSH department staff for non-clinical tasks after sufficient training.
According to statistics, as on July 6, a total of 51 doctors and nurses, 20 field-level staff -- including junior health inspectors and junior public health nurses -- and 11 Asha workers were infected.
Subsequently, till Monday, a total of 32 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19.