Maharashtra alone, with the highest number of over 7.3 lakh confirmed Covid-19 cases so far, accounts for around 28% of the infected healthcare workers and more than 50% of the total deaths, according to the data.
While Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had tested more than 1 lakh healthcare workers each till August 28, Karnataka reported only 12,260 infected healthcare workers — almost half the burden in Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu reported 11,169 cases that included doctors, nurses and Asha workers. The three states together accounted for 55% of the total cases among health workers.
The three states also reported the highest number of deaths in healthcare professionals, though with a wide gap between Maharashtra and the other two. While Maharashtra reported 292 deaths among healthcare workers, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had 46 and 49 deaths, respectively.
A large number of Covid-19 infections and even deaths of healthcare workers in particular states is being viewed with concern by officials and public health experts, who say risks to frontline workers can jeopardise India’s fight against the pandemic.
The issue, discussed in a review meeting headed by the cabinet secretary on Thursday, saw the Centre cautioning states about the need to protect a crucial resource. The possible factors responsible for high infections, officials said, were lax infection control in hospitals and the need for stringent containment measures in areas where health professionals reside to safeguard them.
Despite the high number of cases, the government has received only 143 claims since April under the Rs 50 lakh Covid-19 insurance scheme for healthcare workers engaged in Covid mitigation activities.
Official sources said the wide gap between the number of deaths and claims could be because all the casualties may not be eligible under the scheme. Besides, the claims are a bit slow in coming as families of the dead take time to apply and do the required paperwork.
“Solidarity with health workers cannot be met with mere words of encouragement but by concerted efforts to strengthen the health workforce. Safety net for their families should be provided including a term insurance cover of over Rs 2 crore, with the government as sole guarantee,” said Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India.
“Protecting healthcare workers is of paramount importance to make sure we have a large enough force to take care of patients who need their services,” said Dr H Sudarshan Ballal, chairman, Manipal Hospitals, who said such workers may be at risk because of a large number of asymptomatic patients and lack of proper use of PPEs.