All this stress and irregular eating exposes health workers to dehydration which can also lead to health problems. “When we watch the news about so many new PCR tests were done nationwide, let us give a thought to the frontline workers who put themselves at risk not just of infection but also long-term complications to carry out those tests in difficult conditions,” says health workers Radha Poudel in Jumla.
A microbiologist working in a laboratory in Province 1 has diabetes, which puts him in a high risk group for COVID-19 infection. He needs to drink lots of water, and needs to use the bathroom frequently. But for the past three months, his meals have been irregular and he suffers from dehydration.
“Even under normal circumstances, we do not work more than five hours at a stretch, and if they have to go to the bathroom, they have to change into another PPE,” says Runa Jha at the National Public Health Laboratory in Kathmandu.
Overseas Nepalis on the COVID-19 frontlines, Upasana Khadka
However, this guideline is hardly ever put into practice. Most health facilities have barely enough PPEs for healthcare personnel, let alone to change in and out of during breaks. There is also the lack of testing kits, or improper and unreliable kits that give the wrong results.
Radha Poudel says the government has not paid attention to the problems faced by healthcare personnel despite the global focus on frontline workers. As a menstrual hygiene activist even before the coronavirus pandemic, Poudel is especially concerned about female health workers who have specific problems working in hospitals and labs during their periods.
Kanchan Bista, a medical technologist at the government testing lab in Dhangadi says she wears three menstrual pads at once so she does not have to go to the bathroom to change. “It is very difficult to change and often there is no new PPE to get into afterwards,” she says.
Nitu Adhikari says the government has to ensure adequate PPEs so that lab technicians, doctors and nurses do not have to wear PPEs for long stretches. She adds: “There also have to be enough PPEs, diapers and pads for us to use. These problems need to be addressed so that those working on the frontline are comfortable and safe.”
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