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Jakarta Post

Point of no return for nurses, doctors during COVID-19 outbreak

  • Primastuti Handayani
    Primastuti Handayani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 23, 2020   /   03:37 pm
Point of no return for nurses, doctors during COVID-19 outbreak Medical personnel in self-protection clothing (PPE) at the Iskak Tulungagung Regional Hospital, East Java carry a female patient suspected of COVID-19 on Friday, March 13, 2020. (JP/Asip Hasani)

The news finally hit us hard. We were prepared, but still in reality we were not prepared at all.

When my sister-in-law told us that the hospital in which she works in Bandung, West Java, has been declared a referral hospital for COVID-19, we went into shock. 

Of course, we have known that she has always been a hardworking and dedicated nurse. We also knew she would be ready and on call every time some emergency occurs. But this is different. This is like she is at a point of no return. We don’t know whether she will survive the pandemic. We don’t know if she will return home safely every day.

Call me paranoid. Call me overreacting. But medical workers have fallen victim after being tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) revealed over the weekend that five doctors had died of COVID-19, while another died of exhaustion and a heart attack. 

Read also: COVID-19: Inadequate medical supplies take toll on lives of Indonesian medical workers

The figure does not include the number of nurses who have become victims of COVID-19. So far, a nurse died of the virus on March 12, while Indonesian Nurses Association (PPNI) chairman Harif Fadhillah said nurses across the country have expressed concern over working unprotected while treating patients with COVID-19. Harif said that while health workers must wear hazmat suits, gloves, goggles and masks when in contact with COVID-19 patients, the truth is many hospitals do not have adequate equipment.

According to my sister-in-law, she had been inside the intensive care unit (ICU) for five days in a row, each day for more than eight hours as the number of COVID-19 patients kept increasing. She also said the medical equipment would only last until this Friday. After that? She said she had no idea whether new supplies would come from the central government.

I immediately called some friends to ask for information on where to purchase N-95 masks and surgical gloves, as well as hazmat suits. Some of them referred me to certain civil society groups for help, but they are also overwhelmed because the demand for medical supplies by referral hospitals is very high.

As of Monday afternoon, Indonesia had 579 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 49 fatalities and it remains unclear how many were medical staff who worked on the front lines.

Read also: If not us, who else will do it?': Sweat and tears of Indonesia's COVID-19 nurses, doctors

My sister-in-law is not the only one fearing for her safety. My friend’s husband – a doctor on Batam Island – had to perform a surgery with an ordinary fabric mask as surgical masks are no longer available in the hospital.

The government sent a Hercules aircraft to Shanghai, China, to pick up medical supplies and equipment – disposable masks, N-95 masks, protective clothing, goggles, gloves, surgical caps, shoe covers and infrared thermometers – to meet the demand from referral hospitals.

On Monday, the government opened a makeshift COVID-19 hospital in Kemayoran in a complex that used to be the Asian Games athletes village.

Jakarta has the most COVID-19-positive cases in the country, but we do not know the real numbers of cases in other provinces and on other islands.  

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid has called on the government to be more serious about protecting medical workers. “As the frontline staff for handling this COVID-19, medical workers are the most vulnerable group because they are exposed to patients in health facilities. The fact that many of them have been infected is proof that the government is not protecting them well. This is dangerous for medical workers, patients, their families, relatives and the community. The government must publish protocols on the protection of medical workers,” he said last Wednesday.

An Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit disease surveillance and biostatistics researcher, Iqbal Ridzi Fahdri Elyazar, had warned that if the authorities fail to take drastic measures to slow down the spread of COVID-19, the country could have tens of thousands of cases by April, shortly before the Idul Fitri holiday. Based on these calculations, Indonesia could be grappling with up to 71,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of April.

We don’t want that to happen, do we?

My sister-in-law and other medical workers are staying in hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

Don’t we have to play a role in curbing the outbreak as well? Stay at home is all they ask so that we don’t become carriers or get infected by other people when we go outside.

Companies should be more considerate during this outbreak. If they can’t shut down completely and have to have their employees take turns working, they can at the very least provide protection for their workers in the form of masks and hand sanitizer.

We still want to celebrate Ramadan in a peaceful way, even if we get stuck in traffic as in previous years. We want to visit our parents and ask for their forgiveness.

As for me, I just want to hug my sister-in-law and tell her how much I care for her – something I’ve forgotten to do in the past few years.

But for now, all I can do is pray for the best: for her safety and for other medical workers’ safety as well.