Behind the scenes of a pandemic

Covid 19 Dec 17, 2021

The hands which heal could have wounds themselves, couldn’t they? We tend to forget that. Is it because we don’t see these wounds or won't acknowledge them even if we do?

While we enjoy the fruits borne from the toil of healthcare workers, we do not once think of the hardships they had to go through.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) originated in Wuhan and spread rapidly to all continents making the WHO declare it as a pandemic in March 2020. This disrupted the lives of many people, including healthcare workers. The frontline workers include  doctors, nurses, lab workers, administrators, janitors, food service staff, EMT’s, medical students, community healthcare workers, ambulance drivers and many others. They are the first ones to respond and the first to get exposed during epidemics and pandemics.

The disturbed mind

Mental health is not something talked about openly, either because people believe it’s not worthwhile to discuss or due to perceiving it as taboo. But mental illnesses left unchecked can have dire consequences. A study showed that healthcare workers had an increased risk for developing psychological problems like anxiety, depression, insomnia and even PTSD during the pandemic. Overall psychological issues were found to affect 44%, 42%,28% of physicians, nurses and technicians, respectively.

Extremely long working hours, an inadequate supply of PPE, heavy workload, high infection rate among healthcare workers and their families, uncertainty of whether their workplace organization would take care of their families and the lives lost despite doing everything possible, might be contributing factors for these psychological effects.

The danger

Frontline workers are always at a risk of getting infected and passing it on to their families. As a result, many live away from their family, not seeing them for months. Although it may seem effective, it isn't the right answer as this pandemic is not a temporary problem and definitely not the only crisis we are going to face.

According to WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update as of 31 January 2021 there were 1.29 million COVID-19 affected healthcare workers.

Even the WHO Director-General at the opening of  World Health Assembly - 24 May 2021 said, “Many have themselves become infected, and while reporting is scant, we estimate that at least 115 000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service of others”. He went on to  say that though healthcare workers do heroic things, they are not superheroes; they are human beings and they feel frustrated, helpless and vulnerable too, just like us.

But truth be told, this isn’t the first and certainly isn’t going to be the last for a healthcare worker to lose their life working for us. Unfortunately, we may see it more often in these dark times, so instead of mourning in silence, let’s acknowledge their sacrifice.

The stigma

Being a healthcare professional is difficult, especially in times like these. People often stigmatize them for the risk of transmitting the disease or hold them responsible for a bad prognosis. People even resort to violence in some cases. Yet again, violence is something that results because of deep-rooted social stigma and discrimination. All around the globe HCWs are facing varied attacks, from being evicted and being denied public services to death threats and even physical assaults.

ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross) reported that just from February to July 2020, there were 611 cases of violence, harassment and stigmatization across forty countries over the globe.

The solution

So what can we do to make it better? Well, for starters, we could take proper precautions to avoid getting infected, be it by COVID-19, Ebola, swine flu or any other.

In situations like these, health education is the key. To stop the stigma and violence, it is of great importance to spread accurate information about the disease, regarding the modes of transmission, its prevention and its treatment.

Be proud if one of your family members or friends is a healthcare worker as it brings a meaningful purpose to their hardwork. Have empathy towards the people working during the pandemic and acknowledge the role they're playing in keeping us and our loved ones safe

The legislation

One of the many pieces of legislation that ensures zero tolerance towards violence against healthcare service personnel during the pandemic is  The Epidemic diseases (amendment) bill, 2020. It was introduced during the pandemic in India, under which an “act of violence” committed against a healthcare worker is a non-bailable offence. The punishment for such an act can be a fine of up to 2 lakhs or imprisonment up to 5 years and in severe cases, imprisonment up to 7 years and a fine of 5 lakhs

Though in a hard way, this pandemic has taught us the importance of healthcare and made us realize that the system requires more resources and support. I think recognizing the year 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers, unanimously at the 73rd World Health Assembly shows that we are on the path to accepting the change and building a society where healthcare workers are proud of what they are doing, rather than crying in silence for what they are going through.


Nampally Vamshi Krishna

A Final year medical student from Osmania medical college, trying to create a positive attitude towards health. Passionate to be trained in Surgical Histopathology.

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