Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic from the front, healthcare workers in India who are risking their lives for others, are facing ingratitude from the very people they serve.
The second case within a week, of a doctor, who died due to COVID-19, being denied funeral in Chennai has sparked outrage among the medical fraternity. Last week, the family of a doctor from Andhra who died at a hospital in Chennai, met with a similar response at another crematorium. The body was eventually cremated with assistance from the police.
On Sunday (April 19), 55-year-old Dr Simon Hercules, a neurosurgeon and chairman of New Hope Medical Centre in Chennai had succumbed to the disease at the Apollo Hospitals in the city. As per reports, after his body was handed over to his family, he was taken to a crematorium in Kilpauk area, when a group of people arrived there to protest against the cremation, as they feared the spread of the disease.
According to Dr Bhagyaraj, another closer associate, who sent out a video message regarding the incident, said they had the required permission for the burial. “Dr Simon contracted the disease from someone he treated. He wouldn’t have been infected, if he had refused to see patients. An excellent doctor like him was denied a dignified burial. At least 50 people gathered around us and attacked us with stone sand sticks. At least seven of them who had been at the funeral have been admitted to hospital with injuries; this includes a sanitary inspector” Bhagyaraj said.
Later, Dr Pradeep, who worked with Dr Hercules gave him a burial in another crematorium, lowering his body in to the pit, under the lurking fear of attack by people.
Dr Bhagyaraj’s emotional video also questioned the treatment meted out to doctors. “Is this going to be the state of doctors who die from the disease? On one hand, many talk about putting doctors on a pedestal,” he said.
In a similar incident, residents denied burial of another doctor who died of COVID-19 at the same private hospital last week.
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‘Don’t’ demotivate healthcare providers’
Such incidents, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called on the public to laud healthcare workers on Janata Curfew, March 22, has sent out a wave of shock and resentment among the medical fraternity.
The Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association sent out a statement condemning the attack by the unruly mob. The statement said, “TNGDA condemns the action of unruly mob preventing the burial of Dr Simon yesterday. The TNGDA demands and regrets that this being the third such incident of problems with the burial of doctors. Government should have provided adequate security. TNGDA demands stern action against these persons under stringent acts. The fact is the dead body packed is least infective and the ignorant mob agitating against decent burial needs very stern action. The treatment of even a mild COVID-19 patient is several fold riskier for the HCPs. But still we do the same with dedication and responsibility. Already the government sector is over burdened with COVID-19 and Non-COVID-19 emergencies as most private sector institutions have downed their shutters. At this juncture such disheartening incidences will de-motivate the doctors and other healthcare providers. The TNGDA demands proper action against the perpetrators and protection in all unfortunate future incidents. Why only to Doctors? Is this the reward for our selfless commitment for the fight against the deadly SARS-COV2 virus?”
The TNGDA also cautioned the public about the situation if healthcare providers and other players in this anti-COVID-19 war starts thinking about their own safety by this heartless behaviour of certain groups. TNGDA demanded supply of proper specified protective gears immediately to all healthcare workers saying that the many doctors have been infected with coronavirus despite wearing protective gears.
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What about awareness
Last week, after the incident following the death of a doctor from Andhra, Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Beela Rajesh, who addressed the media, had assured everyone that such events would not take place again.
The doctors say that what is distressing is that such events take place, even when it is safe to cremate or bury a COVID-19 victim, provided some safety steps are adhered to.
The Greater Chennai Corporation is in the process of drawing out awareness programmes to be conducted across the city. Prakash Govindasamy, commissioner of the civic body, said, “We are already conducting awareness on twitter with respect to this. We are working out a detailed awareness strategy to reach out to people to ensure that such incidents don’t happen again.”