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Safeguarding COVID-19 frontliners as cases spike

Safeguarding COVID-19 frontliners as cases spike

Photo File-- A member of the medical staff in a protective suit is seen in front of a patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit (REUTERS/FLAVIO LO SCALZO)

The volunteer medics have been extremely busy, while ambulances have also been busy and full almost every day over the past one week.
Several countries across the globe, such as Britain, India, the US, South Korea, Russia, and Indonesia, have re-imposed stringent health protocols to curb a spike in coronavirus cases.In Indonesian capital Jakarta, which has recorded the highest number of infections in the country, the Wisma Atlet Emergency Hospital (RSD) has opened up Towers 4 and 5 to accommodate the growing number of asymptomatic patients requiring self-isolation.

The hospital was earlier operating just Towers 6 and 7. These towers are being used to accommodate patients with mild to moderate symptoms, coordinator of the COVID-19 emergency hospital, Major General Dr. Tugas Ratmono, noted recently.

As of September 21, 2020, the bed occupancy at Towers 6 and 7 had reached 80 percent. Meanwhile, the bed occupancy at Tower 5 had touched 90 percent.

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The recent spike in coronavirus infections has spelt difficulties for the national economy, citizens, as well as healthcare workers who have been battling the virus since March 2 this year, when the country reported its first infections.Frontline workers are toiling day and night in highly uncomfortable personal protective equipment (PPEs), fighting off exhaustion even as they risk exposure to the virus.

At least 117 Indonesian doctors have succumbed to the disease as per data accessed on September 17, 2020. As of August 30 this year, 70 nurses have succumbed to the virus, and about 800 pharmacists nationwide have so far been exposed to COVID-19.

With COVID-19 vaccines still under development, strict health protocols such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands with soap, remain the only effective means to prevent coronavirus spread. However, a significant number of people have shown reluctance to wearing masks or staying at home.

As a consequence, infections have spiked and the already exhausted healthcare staff are continuing to work ceaselessly to handle the growing caseload.

Medical volunteers at hospitals and community health centers are bogged by fatigue, while medical personnel resources are running out, Jossep F. William, chief coordinator of the COVID-19 task force's medical volunteers, reminded the public recently.

“Indeed, medical personnel are currently quite tired, but we are striving to keep up the spirits since it seems that there is still a long way (to go) for the pandemic to be brought under control, and in fact, it (the caseload) is increasing, and there are no signs of a decline. We are working with professional organizations, such as the IDI (Indonesian Doctors' Association), PPNI (Indonesian Nurses' Association), and others, to ready the personnel needed at emergency hospitals,” he revealed.

According to William, currently, the number of nurses and midwives stands at about two thousand, which is adequate, but there is a shortage of doctors.

To handle the shortage of medical personnel, the COVID-19 Handling Task Force is considering recruiting medical interns to assist experienced doctors.

"The volunteer medics have been extremely busy, while ambulances have also been busy and full almost every day over the past one week. The ambulances that transfer those testing positive (for COVID-19) at the Wisma Atet Emergency House have to be in queue, so they cannot pick patients up immediately," he stated.

Since the spike in infections has affected healthcare workers, he urged the public to follow strict health protocols and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We really need the people's help in implementing health protocols. If we continue like this, we will collapse because we are so overwhelmed. Now, we are still holding on, but we do not know how long it will last," he added.

The government, on its part, has accorded top priority to vaccinating 1.5 million medical personnel against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
"It must be ensured that these 1.5 million (healthcare workers) receive the vaccine first, as they are at the forefront of immunization or mass vaccination," Erick Thohir, chairperson of the Committee for COVID-19 Handling and National Economic Recovery, stated.

As the vaccine is not available yet, the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) has suggested that routine examinations using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method be carried out for doctors and medical personnel to lower the risk of death from exposure to COVID-19.

General chairperson of the IDI executive board, Daeng Mohammad Faqih, recently highlighted the high level of transmission observed among medical personnel, especially doctors, owing to direct contact with COVID-19 positive patients.

The process of protecting medical personnel is crucial in the midst of the threat posed by COVID-19, he said.

The IDI has also lauded the support from the Task Force for Handling COVID-19 which is conducting free PCR examinations for medical personnel.

"Although this has only just started in Greater Jakarta (Jabodetabek), we are optimistic of it being emulated in all regions, especially in the nine or 10 main target areas, with high reported cases of COVID-19," Faqih affirmed, while appealing to the public to abide by the health protocols.

According to the Task Force for COVID-19 Response, the Indonesian government is planning to provide free swab tests routinely to healthcare workers handling coronavirus patients.

"The COVID-19 task force is committed to providing protection to healthcare workers, who are the last guard in handling COVID-19, by providing free swab tests to them on a regular basis," Wiku Adisasmito, spokesperson for the task force, said on September 22 , 2020.

"Furthermore, in addition to Jakarta, we will also carry out free swab tests in other provinces, especially in the red zone regions (with high risk of) of COVID-19 (transmission),” he added.

The task force is encouraging healthcare workers handling COVID-19 to participate in the program.

"So that it really can make early detection (possible) and reduce the potential of further spread (of the virus) to other health workers," he explained.

He also said the task force has urged all regions to increase the number of COVID-19 tests.

"Several regions in Indonesia, such as Jakarta and other areas, have exceeded the WHO standard (for testing). Currently, the testing of specimens per day is around 40,000; this (figure) is in September, which is much higher compared to August," he noted.

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to boost testing capacity in areas that are yet to meet WHO standards, especially in nine priority provinces.

The nine priority provinces are Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java, North Sumatra, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, Papua, and Bali. Officials said the Indonesian people can help protect healthcare workers in particular and fellow citizens in general by wearing masks, staying at home, avoiding crowds, and washing hands with soap frequently.

Wearing masks properly is crucial to stopping COVID-19 transmission, and protecting oneself from exposure to the deadly virus would ensure the safety of others, too, particularly one’s loved ones.

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