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Indonesia: 79-year-old doctor on frontline in COVID-19 fight

With limited equipment, Dr. Handoko Gunawan sometimes has to treat patients until 3 am

Hayati Nupus  | 10.04.2020 - Update : 10.04.2020
Indonesia: 79-year-old doctor on frontline in COVID-19 fight

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Despite his advanced age, Dr. Handoko Gunawan, a pulmonary specialist, fights on the frontline against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia.

One of his patients was a woman with blotches on her lungs, as seen in an x-ray image.

Along with high fever, low white blood cells and coughing, the 79-year-old doctor was sure that the patient was infected with the novel coronavirus.

"Even without the swab test I am sure she is infected with COVID-19," Gunawan told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, in the first week of March, it was hard for him to get his patient tested with a swab test as there was barely any facility available during that period.

Meanwhile, Gunawan said the patient cannot be transferred to hospitals specializing in coronavirus as they were cramped with other suspected cases.

“After several days of hospitalization, the patient died,” he said.

Gunawan said that two other patients he treated had recovered while another one is undergoing medical treatment at the quarantine center.

Facing family objections

Indonesia has reported more than 3,500 confirmed virus cases, with a total of 306 deaths and 282 recoveries.

From the beginning of his fight against COVID-19, Gunawan said his family objected to his involvement in the treatment of patients as he belongs to the most vulnerable groups. Sometimes, he said he had to work until 3 a.m.

"I'm worried [of getting infected] too, but I tried to brace myself up. It’s my job as a doctor," said the man with five grandchildren.

Gunawan said he once collapsed after days of work. Next thing he knew, he was sitting in a wheelchair inside a car that drove him home.

The next day, Gunawan was isolated at a hospital. Another doctor put him under monitoring as a patient for suspected infection after being in contact with the infected.

In the isolation, Gunawan shared a room with an infected patient, who is also a doctor, six years younger than him.

He said the patient cried out in pain every night, making him far from feeling lonely.

Unlike the other patient, Gunawan had better luck. His test result came out as negative. He said he was able to go home after eight days and undergo self-isolation for 14 days.

"I feel more relieved, although I still can't hug my grandchildren. I can only see them from afar or via video conference," he continued.

After his self-isolation period ended on Tuesday, Gunawan said he feels relieved to be able to see his family up close again although he can no longer go back to work until the outbreak ends.

Indonesian Lung Doctors Association earlier called on lung doctors over the age of 65 to stop treating patients infected by COVID-19.

Struggle not over

Gunawan said his fight against the virus was not over, even though he had now recovered.

“Out there, the number of patients continues to grow. While medical workers have to treat patients amid lack of personal protective equipment, some of them even had to buy on them at a doubled price,” he continued.

"It was like they entered the battlefield using only sharpened bamboo, while the virus itself is deadly and unbalanced.”

The lung specialist stressed that more serious steps need to be taken to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“I created 3T formula to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic: tracing, testing and treating,” he added.

Gunawan added that the government needs to conduct as many tests as possible and treat infected patients with available drugs.

"This should not be taken lightly, the virus is evil," he added.

Global spread of COVID-19

Since the virus emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has spread to at least 185 countries and regions.

There are more than 1.61 million confirmed infections worldwide, with the death toll surpassing 96,700, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. More than 361,200 have recovered.

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