On Covid-19 frontlines, health workers run gauntlet of death, illness

By Hoang Phuong   August 19, 2021 | 04:36 pm PT
On Covid-19 frontlines, health workers run gauntlet of death, illness
Doctor Nguyen Tran Anh Thu takes off her mask at a field hospital in Thu Duc City, HCMC, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa
Over 2,300 medical workers in Vietnam have been infected with the novel coronavirus since the pandemic hit the country, and three have lost their lives.

The sobering facts were shared by Pham Thanh Binh, chairwoman of the National Union of Health Workers, at a Thursday online conference.

It is a certainty that the numbers will rise in the future, she added.

Citing data from the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health, Nguyen Trong Khoa, deputy head of the Health Examination and Treatment Agency, said around 900 health workers have been infected since the fourth coronavirus wave hit Vietnam in late April.

"The most painful of all losses has been the loss of three of our health workers," he said.

While the Ministry of Health has deployed various measures to protect the health workers, including the provision of training and protective equipment, there are personnel that still lack experience in handling Covid-19 cases in high-risk areas, heightening the risk of their getting infected, Khoa said.

He called for "reinforcements to lighten their workload."

Over the past two months, over 12,000 doctors and nurses from northern and central Vietnam have traveled south to help their colleagues. Around 7,000 have been dispatched to Ho Chi Minh City and the rest to other localities.

Besides the virus itself, health workers also have to endure psychological burdens of patients' conditions worsening, the lack of equipment and disruptions to their daily lives.

"There have been calls in the middle of the night. Health workers were crying because they couldn't save their patients," Binh said.

Health workers at an ICU for treating Covid-19 cases in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.

Health workers tend to Covid-19 patients at the HCMC Covid-19 Resuscitation Hospital, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen

Nguyen Ba Tinh, a doctor with Hanoi's K Hospital, said he has been deployed to the HCMC Covid-19 Resuscitation Hospital for nearly a month. "No one has had even a gulp of fresh air," he said.

The hospital specializes in treating severe Covid-19 cases which require ventilators. However, it is suffering from a lack of doctors for the ICU, and this, along with the sheer number of patients admitted makes for an "insane" workload for everyone involved.

Health workers often have to split themselves across three, even four shifts a day, spending hours day and night in protective suits. They have become "accustomed to entertaining themselves" as everyone stays in their own hotel rooms, and all meetings are conducted online. Short breaks and infrequent meals have become routine.

"We've seen our colleagues having to treat their own parents, brothers and sisters," said Tinh.

Nguyen Trung Cap, deputy director of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, who has also been dispatched to help southern provinces, said the situation at the Mekong Delta is "a bit calmer" than in Ho Chi Minh City. But that doesn't make it any easier.

"People have been pushed to 500 percent of their maximum capacity," he said, also noting the lack of doctors for ICUs.

Cap also expressed his worries about the lack of medical and protective equipment, adding that fake or low-quality goods heighten the chance of health workers getting infected.

Nguyen Phuoc Loc, deputy head of the Central Commission for Mass Mobilization, the advisory body to the Communist Party's Politburo, stressed the need for better policies regarding workload, occupational risks and other aspects to support health workers.

Ngo Duy Hieu, deputy chairman of the General Confederation of Labor, said they have supported each health worker with VND1 million ($43.84), and those deployed to southern Vietnam with a further VND2 million in cash, apart from other assistance in kind.

He said: "The fight against the pandemic can get tougher and longer, no one can know for sure. While we always hope for the best, we must also be prepared for unfortunate events."

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