Everybody has the right to health. Health is a human right.
While the world is suffering a global health crisis, it is critical to ensure that we protect those who are working relentlessly to keep us safe. Health care workers are human right defenders.
They go to hospitals and healthcare centers, putting themselves at high risk every day. Many of the healthcare workers and doctors have been gripped within the clutches of the novel coronavirus. Estimated figures from China’s National Health Commission indicate that over 3300 health-care workers have been infected as of early March and, with at least 22 deaths. The worst hit, Italy has 20% of responding health-care workers infected, and many have even died. Reports from medical workforce point towards increased physical and mental exhaustion, the bane of difficult triage judgments, and the pain of watching patients and colleagues die, all in addition to the infection and risk.
Exploring the concerns of healthcare workers globally:
- As the pandemic fast-tracks, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers is a critical concern. PPE shortages have been witnessed by most affected countries worldwide.
- They are at the highest risk of exposure to the disease.
- Along with their personal safety, health-care workers are worried about passing the contagion onto their families.
- Lack of measures to prevent the spread in hospitals.
- They are mentally drained and psychologically devastated.
In some countries like India, healthcare workers are suffering violence by the communities while they go on to undertake testing. Many of them are not accepted in and around their own homes or communities. They are continually facing mental and physical harassment.
Today, as our healthcare workers and doctors play a major role in the fight for life amid the coronavirus pandemic, International human rights law guarantee the healthcare workers that their human rights be protected, defended and upheld. Let us look at some of the WHO recommendations with regards to the same.
- Training health workers to recognize the disease and how to keep themselves safe:
All healthcare workers must be educated about coronavirus, how it is transmitted and steps they can take to protect themselves. A range of interactive trainings on the open W.H.O. platform are organized to help train healthcare workers about the virus and how to put on and take off PPE safely.
- Increased access to personal protective equipment:
United Nations has a task force that is working relentlessly to scale up the procurement and distribution of PPE globally. The task force seeks to deliver an estimated 500 million medical masks and gloves monthly, as well as other equipment such as respirators and oxygen concentrators for clinical care.
- Support for health workers:
Working tirelessly, without break is taking a toll on the physical and mental health of doctors, nurses and other medical staff. WHO recommends that all workers must be supported by the governments, given apt breaks and monetary support.
- Strong hospital surveillance and sanitation systems:
During the outbreak of Ebola, nearly 70 percent of cases were actually being transmitted within the healthcare system. Thus, Proper surveillance and sanitation systems must also be in place to help prevent the spread of infection spread at hospitals.
Measures taken by Indian Government in lieu of protection of healthcare workers:
The efforts and spirit of our doctors and health care professionals at the forefront is highly commendable at all levels. It is of utmost importance that sufficient measures are taken in order to ensure their safety.
- Human Resources: An empowered group is established at the national level in order to augment the human resource as well as its capacity building while considering the data bases of all personnel.
- Medical Safety: The department of DHR (Department of Health Research) and the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research has recommended the use of hydroxy-chloroquine for prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 infection for high risk population including all asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. Also the healthcare workers who are symptomatic or have examined a case without adequate protection are being tested for Covid-19.In order to organize the ICU and Ventilator Management as well as to assist States in Cluster Containment plans, a high level multi-disciplinary team has been set up.
- Staffing guidelines and timely payments: There has been a release of guidance notes stating timely payments of Healthcare service providers including those requisitioned from outside of government sector.
- Psychological Support: A dedicated toll-free helpline is provided for the health care workers for their psycho-social support. Also, stress management activities and training modules have been designed for these workers. A lot of online training and webinars for Physicians and Nursing personnel is being conducted by various hospitals on management of Patients, Ventilation surgery, Septic Shock, Infection and Prevention control practices, Psychological care of patients, etc. Currently, a collection of 12 courses in different languages has been put up which talks about major important topics such as: Basics of Covid 19, Quarantine and Isolation, Infection prevention through PPE, Psychological care of patients with Covid 19,Laboratory sample collection and testing, Clinical management of Covid-19,etc.
- Life Insurance Cover: The government has announced an Accidental insurance cover of 50 lakh Rs. for about 2212 Lakh healthcare workers, under its Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Package Scheme. It covers the loss of one’s life due to Covid-19 and any accidental death on account of Covid-19 related duty.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) ordinance, 2020
In order to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is required that health facilities have adequate water, sanitation, hygiene, healthcare waste management, and cleaning.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) ordinance passed in India, 2020, thus manifests to commit the protection of each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling covid-19 on the frontline. This ordinance protects all health workers, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers, across the country. Ordinarily, the guilty can be sent to jail for three months to five years, with a fine of ₹50,000 to ₹2 lakh. However, if there is grievous injury then the guilty could be sent to jail for six months to seven years and fined ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh. The ordinance also provides compensation for injuries to healthcare workers or causing damage or loss to property. If damage has been done to their vehicle, then the compensation is double its market value. The government must also accord a high degree of priority to providing protective gear and equipment to all healthcare workers to protect them against the disease.
“When healthworkers are at risk, we’re all at risk.”
—Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General
While the laws internationally are in place, yet the protection of human rights of healthcare workers is a concern as it is a chaotic situation. Healthcare systems are operating at a maximum capacity for many months. But healthcare workers, unlike wards, PPE, or ventilators cannot be urgently manufactured. It is imperative that governments see doctors and medical staff as not merely as pawns deployed to take care of the global emergency, but as human warriors. In the global response, the safety of health-care workers must be ensured. Adequate provision of PPE, being the first step; other practical measures must be considered, including cancelling non-essential services to prioritize resources such as provision of proper food, rest, family support; and psychological support to the health care sector. Presently, health-care workers are every country’s most valuable resource. Not just the government or legal system, as communities and individuals, it is the duty and responsibility of each one of us to support our frontline heroes fight the pandemic. It is together that we can turn the tide in our stride.
 Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
UN General Assembly. 2015. 21 October. UN Doc. A/RES/70/1
 Guiding principles for business and human rights, Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
Office of the high Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, 2011.
 Website- Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India- www.mohfv.gov.in
(Measures for safety of health workers during CoVID-19)
 CESCR General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12)
CESCR (Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights). 2000. ). 11 August. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4