‘Don’t step back, step forward as country needs us,’ says doctor heckled during COVID-19 duty

Indore doctor who escaped angry mob exhorts health workers to stay motivated

April 03, 2020 09:25 pm | Updated 09:25 pm IST - Bhopal

 Residents of Taat Patti Bakhal apologize to a team of doctors a day after health workers were heckled by some locals in wake of COVID-19 pandemic, in Indore, Thursday, April 2, 2020.

Residents of Taat Patti Bakhal apologize to a team of doctors a day after health workers were heckled by some locals in wake of COVID-19 pandemic, in Indore, Thursday, April 2, 2020.

A day after they were heckled, pelted with stones and chased away from a locality in Indore , doctors Trupti Katdare and Zakiya Sayyed returned to the same spot on Thursday. Back to finish an incomplete task, they refused to abandon the role that could help save lives as the COVID-19 outbreak grips Indore, the city most affected in Madhya Pradesh .

“I am not afraid; the profession we picked for ourselves is a noble one,” said Dr. Sayyed, in a message to health professionals. “And right now, the country needs us. So, don’t step back, step forward and help the country.”

The incident in Indore on Wednesday, where cases have soared to 89, left both the doctors, and the country, visibly shocked and outraged. “Not even in our dreams could we imagine it,” said Dr. Katdare. As they traced contacts of a patient in the city’s Tatpatti Bakhal locality, tempers flared on requests for quarantine, and a mob of locals chased them out. Dr. Katdare fell to the ground while trying to flee from the mob, and hurt herself. Others in their group were injured around their feet as stones landed from behind. “The locals didn’t even trust the ASHA worker accompanying us who lives there,” she added.

Also read:Pandemics and prejudice: When there is an epidemic, social prejudices resurface

After managing to escape in the tehsildar’s car, even as stones continued to be hurled from behind, they met the Collector who motivated them, as did senior doctors. But the push from their husbands at home proved most useful, reviving their spirits: “They said: ‘no, you should not give up this easily’,” said Dr. Katdare. And so they returned the very next day.

Residents have been more responsive since, not panicking at the possibility of isolation. “Although we are working more today, but mentally we are more relaxed,” Dr. Katdare, who works at a Primary Healthcare Centre in Kshipra, said on Friday. The team had quarantined 36 primary contacts of three patients in different localities until 5 p.m. on Friday.

The incident had sent across a clear message, believes Dr. Sayyed, resulting in a positive change in attitudes. “A tenant from a building where a patient was found positive insisted for isolation for himself, although he had not had any contact. The country has received the message of not fearing isolation,” she said.

“If doctors can work in such adverse conditions, those who had contact with positive cases can come forward and help society too,” added Dr. Sayyed, who works at a Primary Healthcare Centre at Kampel. “If people follow this, within one week we can have control of the spurt in the city.”

The cause for distrust, said Dr. Katdare, stemmed mainly from rumours being spread on social media. For instance, one message advised residents to resist quarantine at a different location as they would be huddled into a bus, taken to an undisclosed location and be injected with the virus. “It’s not about the lack of awareness, but a wrong message being spread around, people being misguided,” she said.

To dispel this uncertainty, good counselling was the only key, opined the doctors. “If you counsel them well, there will be no issues. People are afraid of being quarantined, as it is shrouded in uncertainty. If you tell them the government is working for their own good, a positive message is sent across. Doctors, just do your duty!” exhorted Dr. Katdare.

Misgivings about the economic costs of a quarantine too could make people wary. “They need to be assured all arrangements will be taken care of by the government,” said Dr. Sayyed, who admits it is a challenge to trace contacts in the city’s congested clusters where the outbreak happened. With most patients having no contact or travel history, doctors are yet to trace the primary source of the infection in Indore.

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