Vietnam doctors drink less water, wear diapers in Covid-19 fight

By Thuy Quynh, Chi Le   April 22, 2020 | 09:30 pm PT
Vietnam doctors drink less water, wear diapers in Covid-19 fight
Doctor Nguyen Thanh Binh works at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, which has been treating the largest number of Covid-19 patients in Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Chi Le.
Doctors at the frontline of Vietnam’s Covid-19 fight are wearing paper diapers and reducing water intake to minimize cumbersome change of protective clothing.

Doctor Nguyen Thanh Binh works as a secretary for the Covid-19 patient treatment team of 150 doctors and nurses at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi.

The 42-year-old Deputy Head of General Planning Department said the medical staff wear protective clothing from top to bottom - surgical blouses, caps, medical gloves and an item hitherto unused - disposable diapers.

Each doctor’s shift typically lasts between four and five hours, but when the Covid-19 epidemic escalated and more and more patients were admitted to the hospital, they began to work 12 hour shifts.

The protective clothing they wear gets drenched in sweat after an hour spent on treating patients.

Binh said putting on the clothing correctly was difficult enough, but taking it off was even more so because any accidental touch on the outer surface would expose other staff to the pathogens. Each set of clothing set is only worn once, so every trip to the toilet means they would have to change to a new one.

"Changing to new set of clothes is time-consuming and expensive. We have to reduce our drinking water intake and wear one set of protective clothing for the entire shift," Binh said.

But this would only work for normal shifts. When the number of patients increase and the shifts got longer, the staff thought of using paper diapers to save time. The initiative was coined by a combination of personal experience and those learnt from foreign medical staff, he said.

"When we wear paper diapers, we can work and recharge our energy (food and drinks) at ease," Binh said.

For doctors in charge of critical cases, being frugal with their time and having white nights are daily requirements.

Binh said "Patient 20," a 64-year-old Hanoi woman whose heart stopped a few times in one night, had the entire team stay up all night to care for her. The patient’s health has shown some improvement recently. She is able to digest food and no longer has a fever.

She was confirmed positive on March 7, one day after her 26-year-old niece, Nguyen Hong Nhung, Hanoi's first Covid-19 patient who has been discharged.

Treating the patients exposes the medical staff including doctors to the risk of contracting the virus, despite all precautions including protective clothing. Two of Binh's colleagues have got infected while treating critical cases.

"Patient 116" was the first doctor to be infected by the novel coronavirus in Vietnam. He works for the emergency ward of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Dong Anh District, Hanoi. The 29-year-old doctor had been involved in the Covid-19 fight since January 31, screening suspected cases and treating those confirmed infected.

The second doctor was "Patient 141," also 29 and working at the same hospital. She is said to have contracted the virus when setting up a ventilator for "Patient 28," who is one of the three Covid-19 patients in the country then reported to be in a critical condition. She also came into contact the same day with an infected patient at the hospital. While her colleague was discharged from the hospital on April 7, she is still under treatment.

The team treating Covid-19 patients at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases are on call at all times for emergencies, and have to give up their rare breaks without notice.

"If they put on protective clothing then (when they are called), it would be too late, so that’s why doctors wear them during their entire shift, even night shifts," Binh said.

The National Hospital of Tropical Diseases is Vietnam’s frontline facility. It has treated over 100 Covid-19 patients, more than anywhere else in the country.

The pressure of being on the frontline of the nation’s Covid-19 fight is enormous on the medical staff. Many have not left the hospital since March 6, the day the second wave of Covid-19 infections hit the country.

"We have to work directly with patients, so we can’t say we are not concerned," Binh said.

"But once we are in the infectious diseases field, we have to make up our mind to do our best and follow all measures to prevent infections as much as possible."

Vietnam has gone through a week without any new infection. Of the total of 268 cases recorded so far, only 45 are active, the rest having been discharged from various hospitals.

Starting Wednesday midnight, Hanoi and HCMC, placed a "lower risk" classification now, have been allowed to end their 22-day social distancing campaign that began April 1 under the Prime Minister's Directive 16.

With a couple of districts still having active Covid-19 patients, Hanoi will have more restrictions in place than Ho Chi Minh City, officials have said.

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