Unkind cut: medics fighting Covid-19 report drop in wages

By Thuy Quynh, Le Cam, Le Phuong   September 10, 2021 | 10:30 pm PT
Unkind cut: medics fighting Covid-19 report drop in wages
A medic takes a rest at a Covid-19 intensive care unit in HCMC's Thu Duc City, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
In pandemic times, medical workers have had to work harder and take more risks, but many say they have been rewarded for with pay cuts.

A 32-year-old medic working for a public healthcare center in Ho Chi Minh City said that over the past two years, not as many people came in for health checks and treatment, resulting in decreased revenues.

The medic, who did not want to be named, said that the drop in revenue has meant that her salary has dropped to VND4-5 million (around $200) per month, but did not mention what her earning used to be before the pandemic.

Since the fourth Covid-19 wave emerged in Vietnam late April, her income has dropped even further though she has to work much harder, the medic said.

"Many people could not understand this. They think that once an outbreak appears, it means more jobs for medical staff and as a result, higher salaries. But in fact, it does not work like that."

Previously, she used to get food and transportation allowance of VND800,000 ($35) per month but these days, she gets that only once every three months.

Alongside the pay cuts, she and her colleagues have been placed under added work pressure - from monitoring Covid-19 patients isolated at home to giving them emergency aid, consulting patients and their families via hotlines and administering vaccines.

Because the number of patients is high and there are not enough personnel, people who sometimes don't receive the help they need in time take their anger out on medics, she said.

Another medic who wished to remain unnamed said that normally, the main revenue earner for her employer, the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, came from medical examination, treatment and other healthcare services.

However, since Covid-19 appeared, the hospital has focused all its efforts on receiving and treating Covid-19 patients and earns almost nothing.

"Generally speaking, frontline medical workers have been earning lower incomes for months and many have been paid just a few million dong per month." (VND1 million is less than $50.)

Officials and employees working at the hospital so far have been paid minimum wage for doctors and nurses plus a subsidy for participating in the frontline force.

At the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, medics have taken turns to treat Covid-19 patients: one will work for 14 days in a row before being isolated for 14 days at the hospital and then taking a break at home for seven days, which means they go 21 days in a row without receiving any subsidy.

Some have decided to work longer and stay back at the hospitals. In several cases, there are medics who have stayed at hospitals for three months in a row.

For now, the state budget covers part or all of the patient's treatment costs.

Aside from meals valued at VND120,000 ($5.27) per day, a subsidy of VND300,000 a day is to be given to those who directly treat and take care of Covid-19 patients, while those who transport patients and monitor them from afar are to get VND200,000.

However, despite the allowance, the drop in regular earnings to minimum wages means medics don’t earn much despite being on the frontline in the pandemic fight.

In a statement sent Monday to the HCMC Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son said that a doctor and nurse at Covid-19 field hospitals across the city have to take care of 140-150 patients on average, and each has to work eight-ten hours straight in protective suits.

In case doctors and nurses have to take the emergency shift, they will have to work 12 hours a day, he noted. When medics have to spend time completing administrative reports after finishing their professional work, they too have to work 12 hours a day.

So far in the ongoing Covid-19 wave, Vietnam has recorded more than 585,000 Covid-19 cases, including 286,242 in HCMC, the current epicenter.

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