Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 26
Two days after his father Heera Lal, senior sanitation supervisor at AIIMS New Delhi, died of COVID-19 at the institute’s trauma centre, Prahlad Kumar is still in shock.
“My father got the infection on May 15 and passed away on May 24, within nine days. He was still on duty when he first developed uneasiness and illness. Routine checks were done at AIIMS on the morning of May 15. COVID test was not done and the doctors on duty suggested that my father should return for a COVID test after he develops symptoms. By the time visible symptoms developed around May 19, my father was already in need of a ventilator," says Prahlad urging asymptomatic people to get tested as soon as possible.
Every day is crucial in the fight against this disease as it doesn’t give you any time to respond, says the young man who, like his father, is a permanent staffer at AIIMS.
Prahlad also raises the question of quality of protective gear available to sanitation staff, cleaners, sweepers, ward boys and other workers at the institute.
While acknowledging the pressures of COVID management on AIIMS, the distraught son says that the N-95 masks provided to the sanitation workers at AIIMS were of low quality.
“We are all given four N-95 masks with four envelopes for 15 days and we a supposed to use one each day, store the others and then repeat the cycle. Since the COVID outbreak, I’ve only received eight masks till now. My father also had the same mask and its quality is very low as compared to the quality of filter N-95 masks you get in the markets. We do not get gloves. Sanitizers are also not freely available and we are mostly encouraged to use soap and water. But because the sanitation staffers’ job is prone to infection they should get the best quality masks, head caps, gloves and full disinfection kits. What happened to my father should not happen to anyone,” Prahlad said, urging the government to increase testing of asymptomatic people.
Heera Lal’s sudden demise has now brought the lens on the safety of cleaners and ward boys across top COVID hospitals.
Questions also arise on whether Heera Lal had received Hydroxychloroquine preventive drug against COVID considering
ICMR recently revised its HCQ guidelines to include asymptotic COVID warriors in containment zones.
When contacted AIIMS medical superintendent DK Sharma ruled out laxity on the part of AIIMS in handling the Heera Lal case.
Sharma also said AIIMS had issued HCQ for all its COVID warriors much in advance of ICMR’s revised guidelines covering all frontline staffers in containment areas and provided its staffers with all the necessary protection.
“Why wouldn’t we care for our own staff? We managed the case of Heera Lal the moment he came to us,” said DK Sharma.
Amid conflicting versions from the family and the institute administration, it’s unclear where the truth lies.
What’s clear is, COVID warriors remain vulnerable to the disease and must do all they can to protect themselves.
“Masks have to be properly worn, social distance maintained and handwashing practised by all security and sanitation staff,” advises AS Malhi, former President of AIIMS New Delhi Resident Doctors Association.
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