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Report by Staff Reporter

As Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s COVID-19 cases bloat to worrying statistics, an increasing number of doctors and other healthcare workers such as nurses and paramedics are also contracting the potentially deadly virus. Moreover, the acute shortage of testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other medical apparatus, is leaving the first line of defense against the pandemic – our healthcare professionals – at immense risk.

Professor Dr. Mohammad Javed, who taught at the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, was the first medical professional directly tending to COVID-19 patients to succumb to the virus on April 25. The late doctor was nominated by the KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan for a civil award, and a special package was announced for his bereaved family in acknowledgment of the services he had rendered as a doctor on the frontlines of the battle against the ongoing pandemic.

However, his sacrifice may seem almost in vain as the KP government, having learned little from Dr. Mohammad Javed’s demise, has failed to provide any PPEs and other desperately needed equipment to its healthcare workers. It is recorded that 86 doctors in the province have contracted the virus to date – with more and more healthcare professionals falling ill with the virus, the burden on KP’s healthcare sector is also magnifying, and the doctors and nurses that remain are quickly losing morale and fear their lives.

“Most of the COVID-19 patients lying in our hospitals right now are healthcare employees because they do not have any PPE and all appeals to the government for supplies are going unanswered,” said Dr. Rizwan Kundi, President of the Young Doctor’s Association (KP). “Doctors are at the forefront of all COVID-12 related activities, they have the most contact with potential cases which is why they are also the most affected of all frontline workers.”

In addition to doctors, so far 129 healthcare workers in KP have also contracted COVID-19 while dispensing their duties. The rate at which medics are falling ill is a concern that healthcare workers and their associates are repeatedly raising with the government on different forums, calling for stricter lockdowns and restrictions to mitigate the spread of the contagion while it is still not too late.

“If the rate at which healthcare professionals are being infected keeps up, then we are looking at very grim outcomes,” said General Secretary of the Nursing Association KP, Fazl Maulah. “I urge the government to alter their current strategies by enforcing a strict lockdown because the public, as well as healthcare workers, are not taking this matter seriously enough. Our healthcare system cannot bear any more patients than it is already getting.”

On the other hand, the KP government claims that doctors and other medics working in hospitals are being adequately facilitated in order to render their duty against the pandemic. Moreover, the provincial government has announced an aid package for the families of frontline workers who lose their lives to the virus, worth Rs. 7 million.

Medical staff in KP’s hospitals have said that due to the lack of PPE, they are forced to disinfect and reuse disposable gloves, masks, and other such equipment, which are more or less useless in protecting them against the virus.