Multan-Young doctors warned the government on Sunday that if it failed to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the medics currently serving at different health facilities including quarantines, the fear of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) infection would force them to run away in coming days.

Talking to The Nation in an exclusive interview, Dr. Faran Aslam, President of Young Doctors Association (YDA) Multan, claimed that the YDA went on strike due to non-availability of protection gear and life-threatening work environment, adding that the Association would not call the strike off if their demands were not accepted.

“We (the doctors) are the most vulnerable people against COVID-19 pandemic as we are the ones who are on the forefront to handle infected patients. The government has not given us anything for our personal protection and instead forcing us to sit at quarantine centres and hospital OPDs with just simple masks,” he added.

He demanded the government to provide PPEs including N95 masks, isolation gowns, nonsterile disposable patient examination gloves, face shields, shoe covers and protective goggles to the doctors and paramedical staff deployed at the quarantine centres and hospitals. “Don’t let the fear grip the medics. Further delay in providing PPEs will worsen the situation,” he warned.

The COVID-19 outbreak has so far killed four persons in Pakistan while 686 confirmed cases are under treatment at different hospitals. Globally the outbreak, which has been declared pandemic by the WHO, has so far hit 186 countries and killed 13048 persons besides infecting 307277.

Asking the government to provide PPEs to the doctors and lockdown the country, the YDA went on strike on March 17 and insisted that the strike would continue till acceptance of all demands.

Giving details of his visit to quarantine centre in Industrial Estate, he described the work conditions for doctors as horrible. “When we visited country’s largest quarantine centre for COVID-19 suspected patients set up at Labour Complex in Multan, the doctors told us that they were not given any masks or safety kits. They arranged ordinary masks themselves and sat as easy prey for the virus,” he claimed.

“When we talked to the CEO Health Dr. Munawar, who was also present there, he said that he was also without PPE kit and he was just helpless,” he maintained. He added that the doctors at Nishtar and Shahbaz Sharif General Hospitals were forced to perform duties at outdoor departments without PPE despite serious hazard of COVID-19 infection.

He suggested to the government to immediately announce lockdown across the country and shut down outdoor as well as indoor departments for at least two weeks. “We suggest that the hospitals may offer only emergency services and entire focus should be put on COVID-19 containment,” he added. He said that about 3000 patients visited Nishtar Outdoor department daily and all of them including doctors would be at risk if just one COVID-19 infected patient sneezed among them. He declared that the YDA members were ready to volunteer to launch telemedicine mechanism under which patients did not need to visit hospital physically and they were advised on phone. He said that the Cardiology Hospital had already implemented this method successfully.

Citing example of Italy, he said that there were just three cases on February 19 but today situation had gone out of their control. “The coming week is the week of horror. If the government doesn’t consider our proposals seriously, there will be a serious chaos in the country,” he warned again. He said that the doctors were continuously screaming for their and public’s security but the administration of Nishtar Hospital and government exhibited criminal silence.

He was of the opinion that the majority of the masses was illiterate and ignorant hence the government needed to enforce the lockdown. “If they delay this decision everything will go out of control like Italy,” he warned. He pointed out that hospitals in Multan had just 24 ventilators and many of which were already occupied as these machines were installed at Intensive Care Units (ICUs). “So you can well imagine that what will be the situation once outbreak takes place. How will we make decision that who is to be put on ventilator and who is refused?” he questioned.