TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Following the March 22 announcement of the death of six doctors, the Indonesian Medical Association’s executive board (BP IDI) began posting on its social media pages obituaries for doctors who succumbed to the Covid-19, complete with a black and white portrait of the deceased doctors next to their names and academic titles.
PB IDI’s posts amid the rising death toll drew public attention. They seem to jolt the public into reality that medical personnel, particularly doctors, who are fighting at the frontline of the battle against the corona pandemic are falling one by one. “It’s only fitting for us to honor our members who died in the fight,” said the PB IDI Chairman Daeng Mohammad Faqih during a special interview with Tempo last Friday, April 17, adding that the virus had already claimed the lives of 24 doctors.
PB IDI reasoned that the identities of the deceased were revealed also to remind their colleagues to be more vigilant when handling virus-stricken patients, particularly when not all the doctors in the regions have enough personal protective equipment (PPE). Faqih lamented that the low PPE supply had become a dire problem. Since last month, PB IDI has been underlining the importance of PPE in ensuring medical personnel’s safety. However, the supply still has not reached several regional hospitals.
To Tempo, the medical doctor who also studied medical law explained various matters-from PPE shortages, the importance of mass swabs and additional referral hospitals to the need to release patient information to contain the spread of the outbreak.
What actually is the cause behind the deaths of many doctors?
There are two major factors. First, the PPE shortage. We are very concerned that our colleagues are using modified PPE out of raincoats or even plastic because the improvised PPE does not give 100 percent protection. Second, we are actually worried about the (safety) of the doctors who are practicing in community clinics, private clinics or other hospitals more than the ones who worked at referral hospitals.
Why were they more susceptible to infection?
Their patients varied. Perhaps they (patients) had Covid-19 but they didn’t know they had it and went to these doctors for other illnesses. Some patients happened to be asymptomatic (OTG) Covid-19 carrier. Since they came for other sicknesses, for example, bone-related problems, the doctors may not have been very concerned about the (coronavirus) risks. So, they didn’t wear PPE.
Are there many incidents like these?
A lot. Most of the deceased doctors in fact worked in non-referral hospitals or had private practices. They were not aware they were seeing OTGs mentioned above. When they examined the patients’ mouths, droplets could have come out. That’s where the high risk of getting infected is present. That’s why we issued an appeal to doctors to reduce practice hours and to restrict face to face interactions unless for urgent and emergency situations. If they must have face to face examination, they should wear PPE even if the patients did not show Covid-19 symptoms.
Is it true that many doctors do not heed that advice?
Perhaps our colleagues are still confident that they are healthy or the patients are not Covid-19 patients. Then they let their guard down. It’s not like they are disobeying the advice. Who isn’t afraid of getting Covid-19?
A lot of patients did not reveal their contacts or their travels to Covid-19 prevalent countries because they were afraid of being rejected by hospitals.
I only heard about it but they were not many. There was such a case in South Jakarta. That behavior is indeed very dangerous. When he did not tell the truth, even more so if he is OTG, well, that spelled trouble for healthcare workers. When he was asked why, he said he was afraid of being turned away by the doctor.
How do we overcome this problem so that it won’t happen again?
The government must designate hospitals to specifically treat Covid-19 patients only. This is very crucial for doctors and patients alike. But on the condition that the designated hospitals monitor the development. If the number of patients multiplies, well, they must promptly add more beds.
Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine