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Sunday Chronicle cover story 13 Jun 2020 The unsung heroes in ...

The unsung heroes in the fight against COVID-19

Published Jun 14, 2020, 2:15 am IST
Updated Jun 14, 2020, 2:15 am IST
Doctors point out how nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. Without their dedication, the system will collapse
Be it the Spanish Flu, Polio, Ebola, MERS, SARS or now the dreaded pandemic of COVID-19, nurses have always been on the frontline, protecting the rest of the world
 Be it the Spanish Flu, Polio, Ebola, MERS, SARS or now the dreaded pandemic of COVID-19, nurses have always been on the frontline, protecting the rest of the world

Lissy Najam, Nursing Superintendent (NS), at Olive hospital, takes care of patients critically ill with COVID-19. She doesn’t let fear get the better of her. Instead, she focuses on the training she received for using personal protective equipment (PPE) kit and hand hygiene from the infection prevention and control team.

Similarly, for over three months some nurses attached to the Gandhi Hospital have been staying away from their families. Dedicating themselves to the care of their patients, they’ve moved into temporary accommodations with their colleagues, so not to possibly pass on the infection to their family members.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally, nurses makeup 59 per cent of the healthcare workforce.

Be it the Spanish Flu, Polio, Ebola, MERS, SARS or now the dreaded pandemic of COVID-19, nurses have always been on the frontline, protecting the rest of the world. Their lives can be challenging at times, but their commitment towards their patients cannot be stressed enough.

Lissy Najam is one of the million health workers around the world who follows in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale, standing at the frontlines compassionately, taking care of the unwell and stressing on hygiene.


“There are challenges while providing care. Especially during a pandemic, our responsibilities have doubled. Added to it, we are in PPEs throughout our duty period, and it is frustrating at times, but we must continue working because we are aware that as nurses we must confront unprecedented challenges, anxiety and overwork, which might even take a toll on our mental health and well-being,” Lissy says.  

Healthcare workers are facing burnout owing to overstress during the pandemic. Because like many other things, the pandemic and current health crisis has brought to fore the shortage of nurses. More nurses are required in response to the global outbreak. According to the Union Health Ministry data, India has only 1.7 nurses per 1,000 people. Double shifts turning into triple shifts have become an increasingly common scenario.


Col Binu, Senior Vice President-Nursing Services, Columbia Asia Hospitals, points out that despite being the highest producer of trained nurses in the world, India has a crippling shortage. She points out that the common stressors experienced by nurses are emotional stress, depression, deprivation in sleep quality, anxiety, fear, negative feeling, frustrations and social stigma of contracting the disease.

Col Binu also talks of the constant physical strain of PPE (dehydration, heat, exhaustion, lack of rest and delayed meals) and the emotional turmoil over having to remain isolated from family. “These are stressful times with a huge sense of uncertainty. And while the nurses are rising to the challenge, the physical and psychological impact on them is increasing with the patient load,” she states.


“Many nurses have been getting infected with COVID-19, which is significantly contributing to the burnout among the other nurses.” L. Neelaveni, a senior nurse manager, Aster RV hospital, talks of the extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves today — working 12-14 hours in bulky PPE kits, staying away from families... “It’s been months since some of the nurses are staying away from their families. It takes a toll on them mentally. But we must stay strong and keep going,” she states matter-of-factly.


Backbone of the healthcare system

Over the years, the role of the nurse has evolved. Col Binu believes it is important that the current nursing numbers in non-critical areas are upskilled and specialised to handle critical cases.

“By doing so, the hospitals can create a larger pool of nurses that can be called upon to support in critical areas of care in pandemic situations,” she suggests.

It is learnt that some hospitals are requesting their nurses to work in areas that are not their routine speciality. “They’re being redeployed to master new skills and take on new roles. And in the midst of the pandemic, the nurses are innovating and charging ahead, too. They’re the ones performing the screenings, taking vitals, taking care of the ill, developing protocols, updating and educating families and even attending to the dying,” Col Binu adds.


Dr Pavan Gorukanti, MD (pulmonary critical care medicine) and Director, Yashoda Hospitals Group, points out how nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. “What makes the nursing profession unique is the complete dedication to the call of duty that is way beyond any financial gain. Without their compassion, dedication and hard work, the system would instantly collapse,” he states matter-of-factly.

Dr Pavan tells us about some of his doctor colleagues who have left the doctor’s profession and joined nursing to ‘serve patients better’. “There is something unique about being at the bedside of a patient, taking the time and effort to understand every individual patient and addressing their unique needs,” he articulates.


Dr Pavan explains, “Nurses are already stretched thin, with multiple demands and relatively poor financial compensation for their qualifications and efforts. If over that, they are ill-treated and they are forced to quit this noble profession, the healthcare system would come crashing down.”