World, Asia - Pacific, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Asia-Pacific health workers risk all to fight COVID-19

At least 35 doctors died, more than 4,200 health workers self-isolated in countries across Asia and Pacific region

Kiran Butt  | 03.04.2020 - Update : 03.04.2020
Asia-Pacific health workers risk all to fight COVID-19 file photo

LAHORE, Pakistan 

Thousands of health workers across the Asia-Pacific region are risking their lives on the frontlines as they battle the coronavirus pandemic.

According to data compiled by Anadolu Agency, at least 3,505 health workers in the region have tested positive for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, while 789 medical staff are undergoing 14-day self-quarantines after suspected exposure.

At least 35 doctors died across the region after being infected by the virus, which claimed more than 60,000 lives across the globe.

China's National Health Commission confirmed that more than 3,300 healthcare workers nationwide had been infected, and at least 13 died, including Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to warn the authorities about the deadly outbreak, which emerged in Wuhan, China last December.

Four doctors tested positive, and two died from the virus in Pakistan, while three doctors, and two nurses were infected in Bangladesh.

In India, six doctors and three nurses tested positive, and more than 15 paramedics, including six doctors, have been asked to self-quarantine.

At least 15 healthcare workers, including doctors, were infected in Afghanistan.

In the Philippines, 17 doctors died, and around 740 medical staff are no longer accepting patients, because they under 14-day self-quarantines after suspected exposure.

In Malaysia, at least 80 healthcare workers have been infected by the coronavirus. And at least 8 cases of virus among staff at public healthcare institutions confirmed in Singapore.

A total of 34 health workers and support staff are currently under quarantine after directly or indirectly coming in contact with an American patient in Bhutan.

Officials confirmed that three doctors have died of Covid-19 infection and 84 health workers have been infected in Indonesia.

In countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia, public healthcare is still too fragmented, underfinanced and overburdened to meet the needs of the majority.

"All countries worldwide, including countries in Asia, are seeing an unprecedented surge of patients overwhelming their healthcare systems," said Dr. Swee Kheng Khor, a health policy and global health practitioner.

Natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks periodically halt the ongoing progress in health indicators, leaving populations in Asia vulnerable, including doctors.

"The doctors are exposed to more COVID-19 patients than the average citizen for longer periods of time, and doing more aerosol-generating procedures, such as swabbing the throat or nose of a patient, put them at a higher risk of getting infected," said Dr. Khor.

Doctors need more support from authorities

The virus, which emerged in Wuhan, China last December, has spread to at least 180 countries and regions.

According to an official from the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic is "far from over" in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Even with all the measures, the risk of transmission in the region will not go away as long as the pandemic continues," Takeshi Kasai, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said on Tuesday.

The WHO has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

"Only government hospitals are treating coronavirus patients at the moment with their limited resources, it is a dilemma that private hospitals are not coming forward to even volunteer," said Dr. Shershah Syed, a physician and surgeon in Pakistan.

Many doctors in the region have complained about the inefficient measures taken by governments to handle the pandemic, and the lack of protective gear.

"Doctors are in direct contact with thousands of patients without proper safety gear. We are repeatedly asking the authorities to provide safety kits to the doctors free of cost, as this is their utmost right," said Dr. Ikram Ahmed Tunio, the head of the Pakistan Medical Association.

A healthcare system, already crumbling under the strain of an expanding pandemic, would not be able to handle the increased burden if doctors, nurses, and other paramedics fall sick.

"Any doctor from anywhere in the world who will be exposed to this virus without wearing a protective suit will be in danger. We have the examples of Italy, China, and the U.S. We should at least protect the doctors so they can save lives," Dr. Syed told Anadolu Agency.

The WHO has advised people to wash their hands for 20 seconds to avoid infection.

Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, the founder of the Gonoshasthaya Kendra Health Center in Bangladesh, said: "It is the responsibility of a patient to give an accurate history of his illness to the doctor so he can determine the case properly."

"Personal hygiene is very important in fighting the novel coronavirus. More cases will start appearing in Bangladesh after doctors get test kits."

Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 181 countries and regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The data shows more than 1 million cases have been reported worldwide so far, with the global death toll around 54,000, and recoveries nearing 217,500.

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