National Doctor's Day: A Tribute To Our Brave Front Line Workers
The sheer strength, grit and dedication of our frontline workforce is reason enough to honour and rejoice how far we have come in our fight for survival against the pandemic.
National Doctor's Day celebrates the noble profession of doctors every years on 1st July
As spring crept up to us in Delhi, so did the feeling of fear and the imminence of death. In striking contrast with the radiant and bright Amaltas that covers the capital's footpaths, roads were lined up with ambulances on barricaded roads. The news of death had knocked the doors of many I knew. The sight of a missed call from those you loved, gave me shivers until someone from the other side said, "sab theek hai". One beautiful day in April, I came home to an anxious family that sat me down to tell me the bad news. The evening that followed, we all spoke in hushed tones, doors were silently shut in our home, each to their rooms with the intermittent beep of an oximeter. It was beyond the imagination of a young person that this intermittent beep would graduate to a loud beeping monitor in the ICU. I had only referred to the hospital I was in while giving someone directions in navigating through the beloved city of the Mughals. Alas, here I was, inside it, battling dipping oxygen and catapulting anxiety. There were dead bodies to both my sides on one of those days. Every day in the ICU was a tragic chapter - the trauma of seeing people scream for air, the hassled healthcare workers, the constant noise of the ambulance bringing someone in.
The only sense of life was those peering eyes through the PPE Kit, eyes that gave you hope, care and assurance. Over a few days, one had figured the art of establishing familiarity through voices and words. In a space defined by mayhem, words of assurance and grit, mostly that asked you to never give up, became the reason to not give up. On a very grim day in that week, I raised my hand faintly to catch the attention of a nursing staff rushing with an injection to an old gentleman, who just been put on a ventilator. Not realising the sheer burden, I said it's been almost ten minutes and I've been wanting to relieve myself, I hope you understand. The honest response that followed my impatient request will stay with me forever - "of course I understand ma'am, we are in PPE kits for more than five to eight hours". That moment established a sense of commonness in the misery we were both in - but one by choice and duty. I have never seen that face but that voice, those hopeful eyes and caring hands I will be able to spot in a heartbeat. It was a bad morning, I had been moved to a high flow mask and was losing hope when a member of nursing staff walked up to me and said "darna nahi hai, haarna nahi hai" (don't be scared and you must be lose hope). He turned back from the corner of my bed to say "I'm on leave for the next two days and I promise you before I'm back, you will be out of the ICU". His sheer confidence made me wonder and want that miracle. I said "are you going home? "home really?". "No. I haven't been home in a while. Not in two years" he said. Take a few days, I said casually, I saw him smile through his eyes, "I'm scared, what if I pass on the infection to a loved one" and can't leave this situation here, this my duty. He then pointed to two of his colleagues who had lost their loved ones in their battle against the virus, both so deeply engaged in reviving a patient. Looking back on that day, I am reminded of why doctors deserve more credit than what's credit to them. Sitting in the shadow of death, I can say with conviction to my readers why it is absolutely imperative we pay heed to their advice on public health in light of the upcoming third wave. Rejoicing how far we have come without commemorate sacrifices made by our front-line workers is a redundancy in terms. Perhaps we need to only glance at the newspaper to realise just how precariously balanced our healthcare system is and consequently we must do everything in our power to preserve this balance.
At a time when humanity rose to the adversity forced on us by nature, the undying service of our healthcare providers must not go unmentioned. The story of our resilience rests on the service of 6 million women front line workers. First responders who were tasked with tracking migrant workers, response for contact tracing on infected patients in rural areas, providing ration and nutrition door-to-door and raising awareness about the pandemic. It was these unsung heroes on whom the national healthcare framework pivoted and owes a huge applause. How these frontline workers distributed dry rations and cooked food, screened people for COVID-19, and advocated on the symptoms of the virus is a story we must pause to acknowledge and cheer. While India continues to battles with the virus, women have been front and centre of care.
Having a conversation on how we managed to survive the deadly second wave would be incomplete without applauding the 1 million Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), assigned to rural villages and towns across India who aided, supported and expedited the Government's efforts in containing the pandemic. Trained women frontline healthcare workers have been risking life and limb since the outbreak of the virus to treat, nurse and help the hundreds of patients access medical infrastructure in India. It has been reported that in states like Kerala, Orissa and Maharashtra, local governments have roped in Anganwadi workers, Auxiliary Nurse and Midwives (ANM), Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) for aid in mitigating illness, death and suffering due to the pandemic too ensure speedy delivery of healthcare. But these unseen warriors caught in the middle of ravaging pandemic face far greater challenges than what meets the eye. The Economic Survey of India 2020-2021 Volume II by the Ministry of Finance acknowledges that ASHA workers played a key role in the country's response for prevention and management of the COVID-19 by providing continued to support community members by increasing access to medical facilities.
Our healthcare fraternity is, a total of 13.77 lakh Anganwadi centers were operational in the country with a strength of 12.8 lakh workers and 11.6 lakh helpers, as per data by the Ministry of Women and Child Development until 2019. This figure had multiplied to 25 lakh Anganwadi Workers and helpers in the country in the peak of second wave of Covid-19. While, on an average, an Anganwadi worker caters to a population of 1,000 in rural and suburban areas under the guidelines of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), their work has tripled several times over in light of the pandemic. The reason this of consequence is that Anganwadi workers and mid-wives were instrumental in easing the hardship faced by lactating mothers in need of antenatal and postnatal care along with nutrition service management at the rudimentary level. Keeping in mind the fact that a woman living in rural India spends 301 minutes per day on unpaid domestic services for household members while her male counterpart spends 98 minutes only, it is important to understand the role played by our women in homes, workplaces and the community. The erase I allude to this is because women are expected to engage in unpaid care work in addition to successfully fulfilling commitments arising out of their paid work. It is here that our women led healthcare system has created a niche worth being praised and honoured.
Although we are yet to live our lives completely bereft of the coronavirus, we have reached a point where it is plausible to look back on the efforts that pulled us through as a nation. With covid-19 drastically changing the old world order as we knew it, India's 2.7 million community based workers have stepped up as frontline responders in their communities. The sheer strength, grit and dedication of our frontline workforce is reason enough to honour and rejoice how far we have come in our fight for survival against the pandemic. Preserving this memory of in light of the pandemic, is one of the most essential tributes we pay on the occasion of this National Doctor's Day.
I was discharged before the nurse returned to work, but all of them have had to go back to the same ICU and wards, pushing for life, cheering for those giving up, serving the sick, all with a smile in their eyes. This is a tribute to all healthcare workers and doctors, those I witnessed speaking to patients who probably couldn't hear them, but just as a doctor explained to me "what if they could hear us? We must give hope, always" - this I think is the greatest service one can render to humanity.
(Nishtha Satyam is a Deputy Country Representative at UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives & Sri Lanka)
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