New Delhi: Around 10,088 healthcare workers across nine states and Delhi have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past five months, ThePrint has learnt. They include doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, lab technicians and ASHA workers among others.
Delhi and West Bengal accounted for around half of these infections, with 4,900 healthcare personnel having tested positive in just these two states since April. West Bengal, however, had data only up to the end of July.
There is no central data on the number of healthcare workers infected across the country but a study in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR) on 23 May had pegged the number of those positive at 1,073 workers at the time.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says it doesn’t compile the data as states’ classification of healthcare workers varies.
“We don’t have an overall figure of healthcare workers infected as every state interprets healthcare workers differently. We have the percentage of healthcare workers infected across states, based on samples of healthcare workers, which we have also shared with the states,” said an official in the Ministry on condition of anonymity.
ThePrint has sourced data from Delhi and nine states, relying on authorities and healthcare worker bodies for the numbers.
Delhi and West Bengal the worst-hit states
ThePrint managed to access data from Delhi and nine states — West Bengal, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — where a total of 10,088 healthcare workers have been infected.
West Bengal has recorded the highest number of infections among healthcare workers, with sources in the state health department claiming that around 2,800 health professionals had tested positive until July.
The state is followed by Delhi with at least 2,100 infections among healthcare workers at the place of work, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.
Telangana is third, with the state’s Director (public health), Dr G. Srinivas, confirming that over 1,500 healthcare workers had tested positive as of August.
S. Lakshmanan, the director of Assam’s National Health Mission (NHM) said that as of 10 August, 1,215 healthcare workers had been infected in the state.
In Andhra Pradesh, health department officials said that at least 645 health care workers have been infected, of whom 22 have died as of 31 August.
In Chhattisgarh, around 540 doctors, nurses and other medical staff have been infected so far, officials told ThePrint. “There has been a steep rise as around 325 per cent or three-and-half times of the healthcare workers contracted the virus in the last month-and-a-half,” said an official from the state’s Covid-19 centre requesting anonymity.
Nagaland has the least infections among the 10 states with only 110 healthcare workers infected so far, according to data provided by the health department.
The state with the highest Covid case load, Maharashtra, has not maintained specific figures about the number of doctors and nurses infected by Covid. The Maharashtra Medical Council, however, pegs the number of doctors infected across the state to be over 500, with a mortality rate as high as eight per cent.
The UP health department too hasn’t collected data yet but according to the Provincial Medical Services Association of Uttar Pradesh (PMSA), 200 doctors and paramedical staff have been infected due to Covid.
OPD healthcare workers most vulnerable
Doctors and government officials that ThePrint spoke to across these states said that healthcare workers are most vulnerable to infection in the out-patient department, which is the first point of contact for all patients.
In West Bengal for instance, government hospitals such as the NRS Medical College and Hospital and Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, have become clusters many times and the respective units have been shut down temporarily and opened after sanitisation.
“In OPDs, we get patients and treat them but later some of them turn out to be Covid positive. We have been requesting the government to ramp up the testing facilities, so that we can get results fast,” said a senior doctor of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum, which is maintaining a list of healthcare workers infected in the state.
The Maharashtra Medical Council too said that general physicians are at high risk. “They are the first points of contact with any patient, and social distancing is impossible during examination. When the patient first comes for a check up, it is not known whether he or she is Covid positive,” said Dr Shivkumar Utture, president, Maharashtra Medical Council.
In Assam on the other hand, while exposure on the line of duty has been the main cause of infection, according to Lakshmanan, “30-40 per cent of the infected healthcare workers had contracted Covid-19 as a result of the community spread”.
Lack of protective gear
Doctors that ThePrint spoke to pointed to the lack of PPEs in these OPD services as one of the main causes of infection. “Doctors in OPDs don’t have proper equipment such as N95 masks since they are expensive — almost Rs 140-150 a piece. We have been asking the government to put a price cap on N95 masks. Even for PPEs, the government has no standardisation. There are PPE kits available from Rs 150 to Rs 2,000,” said Dr Utture.
Officials that ThePrint spoke to, however, said that getting infected is an occupational hazard of being a healthcare worker. “It’s just an occupational hazard of being a healthcare worker. The virus is very smart, it’s not very virulent in its strength but it infects easily,” said Dr Nutan Mundeja, Director General Health Services, Delhi.
She also maintained that Delhi has no dearth of PPEs. “Doctors are well protected and there’s no dearth of PPEs. Sometimes there may be small errors but all healthcare workers are being given PPEs according to protocols,” she added.
Officials in Telangana too said that the government is taking all measures to ensure that frontline workers are protected. “We are also holding medical camps to ensure they are tested regularly,” said Director (public health) Dr G. Srinivas.
High mortality among doctors
On 8 August, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting the risks faced by healthcare workers. According to IMA data, 2,000 doctors have been infected as of 27 August. Of this, 296 doctors have died in the line of duty.
IMA General Secretary Dr R.V. Asokan had told ThePrint that the body’s letter to the PM demanding adequate care for doctors and extension of Rs 50 lakh compensation to both private and government doctors, had not yet received a response.
The body shot off another letter to the Prime Minister on 30 August, asking that doctors who have died due to Covid be treated as “martyrs” and a “inclusive national solatium”, including compensation and jobs for next of kin, be announced.
The IMA data reveals that over 40 per cent of the doctors who have lost their lives have been general physicians. “While the Centre has equipped hospitals with PPEs, doctors who treat patients before the hospitalisation stage are not well protected,” Asokan said.
“According to the central government guidelines, PPEs for outpatient doctors (OPD) include only N95 masks and gloves. But most neighbourhood clinics are small and congested. Patients with fever sit and wait along with others. Masks and gloves are not enough. Triaging patients into fever and non-fever categories is also not done here and eventually the healthcare workers too get infected in such a scenario.” he added.
(Inputs by Angana Chakrabarti, Manasi Phadke, Madhuparna Das, Prashant Shrivastava, and Prithviraj Singh)