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Jakarta Post

Protect COVID-19 front-liners

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, March 21, 2020   /   07:59 am
Protect COVID-19 front-liners Medical personnel in self-protection clothing (PPE) at the Iskak Tulungagung Regional Hospital, East Java carry a female patient suspected of COVID-19 on Friday, March 13, 2020. (JP/Asip Hasani)

Since mid-February, Indonesia’s health workers, doctors and nurses, have been working overtime to treat COVID-19 cases, suspected or confirmed, braving great risks to their health as the front-liners in the battle against the new virus.

They have worked in isolation rooms, in clinics, in regular hospital wards and in the morgues, sometimes without proper protection. Some handle patients wearing cheap, thin plastic raincoats modified to resemble hazmat suits. 

Our sources say nurses and doctors fear not only for the patients’ well-being, but also their own and that of their family members. After working overtime, they come home and sleep in different rooms from their loved ones for fear of spreading the virus.

One source revealed one shocking fact: The current government is not being transparent, not only with the public but also with health workers.

The source, who has been working as a nurse for years said that she had experienced two bad outbreaks during her career, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and bird flu outbreaks in the early 2000s.

COVID-19 is the worst, she said, because the government did not make it clear to the medical workers whether they were treating infected patients or not.

“During the bird flu I knew exactly which patients were confirmed positive with the disease. […] But now […] [w]e do not really know who the suspected COVID-19 patients are or who are the positive ones,” said the nurse, who preferred not to reveal her name. “It makes me really worried. So as a result, we are being asked to treat all of them in the ICU room as patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

When on March 12 a nurse died of COVID-19, the first known medical worker to fall victim to the virus, the government did not acknowledge her profession or, consequently, the risk Indonesian medical workers face daily amid the pandemic.

In the first two months the government was busy dealing with the economic impact of the virus while dismissing the threat of the virus itself. Consequently, the government has yet to respond properly to medical workers’ pleas to provide them with proper equipment.

Indonesian Nurses Association (PPNI) chairman Harif Fadhillah said that nurses across the nation conveyed their fears of being unprotected while treating patients with COVID-19. Harif said that while health workers must wear hazmat suits, gloves, goggles and masks when in contact with COVID-19 patients, implementation was not that easy.

Worse, government spokesperson for COVID-19 Achmad Yurianto jokingly likened nurses, especially those in private hospitals, to hotel “room boys”, in a viral podcast with celebrity Deddy Corbuzier. Yurianto had criticized private hospitals as a “business”, for reportedly rejecting COVID-19 patients.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo finally thanked the COVID-19 front-liners on Thursday, a week after the nurse died in Jakarta. “I give my thanks and highest appreciation to doctors, nurses and all hospital workers who are working hard, full of dedication in serving the patients infected by COVID-19,” he said. Yet he must do more.

Protect our front-liners. Provide them with adequate equipment and ensure their working environment is safe enough for them not to fall victim to the virus.