World

Indian doctors fight coronavirus with raincoats, helmets amid shortage

NEW DELHI: A shortage in protective health gear in India is forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the coronavirus, exposing the weak state of the public health system ahead of an anticipated surge in Covid-19 cases.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government said India was trying to get personal protective equipment in bulk domestically, and from South Korea and China, to meet the shortages.

More than a dozen doctors battling the outbreak, which has so far infected 1,251 people and killed 32, said they were concerned that without the proper gear, they could become carriers of the disease.

In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, drivers of around 4,700 ambulances that mainly serve government hospitals went on strike, demanding proper safety gear and health insurance. "We won't risk our lives unless our demand is met," said Mr Hanuman Pandey, president of the Ambulance Workers Association.

According to one projection, more than 100,000 people could be infected by the middle of next month, putting India's underfunded health system and scarce doctors under severe strain.

In Kolkata, junior doctors at the major coronavirus treatment facility - Beliaghata Infectious Disease Hospital - were given plastic raincoats to examine patients last week, documented by photographs and backed up by two doctors there.

"We won't work at the cost of our lives," said one of the doctors, who declined to be named because he feared retaliation from the authorities.

In northern Haryana state near New Delhi, Dr Sandeep Garg of ESI Hospital said he had been using a motorbike helmet because he did not have any N95 masks, which offer significant protection against virus particles. "I put on a helmet - it has a visor in front so it covers my face, adding another layer over the surgical mask," Dr Garg said.

The plight of doctors in the pandemic has cast a light on a dilapidated and overburdened public health system that has for years been starved of funds and an overhaul.

India spends about 1.3 per cent of its GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world. - REUTERS

WORLD