Amid crisis and panic, healthcare workers have emerged as the real heroes, pulling extra hours to do their duty in this time of a global pandemic.

Parents who work as healthcare professionals are unable to hug their children while husband and wife are living separately to prevent any untoward spread of the virus. These are simple facts besides the one that healthcare professionals are risking their lives while working on the frontline without basic protective gears.

Although what they are being asked to do is necessary but also exceedingly tough on many levels. Nepal is only at the beginning of an uphill struggle. Extended delay in availing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has put the lives of healthcare works in peril.

COVID-19 spreads via close contact through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Without PPE, the risk of transmission to a healthcare worker is high. If healthcare workers are infected, there is a higher risk of transmitting the infection to other people (patients/family/community members). Hence, while trying to save one life, the lives of many others are being compromised.

Healthcare workers at Dharan-based BPKIHS are reporting an increase in number of suspected patients – resident doctors and nurses are being asked to work round the clock on a rotation basis. Healthcare workers are worried that they might suffer due to the lack of PPE. Doctors from BPKIHS went to Biratnagar yesterday to buy a roll of plastic sheet to make their own PPE. The doctors have asked the local government to employ tailors to sew PPE.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers are continually exposed to at-risk patients. For instance, a patient arrived at Seti Zonal Hospital on 24 March for a test. The test result came back on 27 March. For those three days, healthcare workers attended the patient without PPE. The healthcare workers haven’t been tested.

Nursing In-charge at Seti Zonal Hospital told us on condition of anonymity that she had come in direct contact with the coronavirus patient. She said she was wearing a mask but not PPE. When she asked her senior doctors if she should take a test for coronavirus, the doctors told her not to overburden the hospital with a test. They told her to take a test if and only when she shows some symptoms.

She also informed that she has left her daughter at her parents’ house while her husband is living in a separate house. She has quarantined herself and is currently living alone. “The psychological situation of all healthcare professionals is battered at the moment. I am tired of counseling my juniors, patients, and their families. It is taking a toll on my own mental health. As I am in self-quarantine, I am alone and though I am a nurse, questions regarding my own health come to haunt me.”

She added that the greatest challenge right now was to counsel the patients and their family members into not panicking. “The patients are scared and so they expect healthcare workers to sit by their side all time as they need constant assurance, which is not possible. Even the families of the patients are anxious and find it difficult to leave their loved ones’ sides. They do not care for isolation or social distancing at a time when they are scared of losing their lives. Lack of proper information about the virus has created fear among people,” she added.

Limited tests mean limited information about the number of infected persons. Nepal is trying to fight a pandemic without knowing the magnitude of the problem.

Only suspected carriers and those who approach the hospital with symptoms are being tested. This will not give us the exact number of infected. The government is refusing to take into consideration asymptomatic carriers and symptomatic individuals without travel history for testing. We are running on presumptions.

Even healthcare professionals are being denied tests because we do not have enough testing kits. Imagine the horror.