In a plea seeking accomodation and quarantine facilities for health workers involved in treating COVID-19 patients, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has told the Supreme Court that the Health care workers' themselves are responsible to protect themselves from the infection.
In an affidavit filed on behalf of the Ministry it is stated,
"While the Hospital Infection Control Committee (HICC) in the health facility is responsible for implementing the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) activities and for organizing regular trainings on IPC for HCWs, the final responsibility lies with the HCW to prevent infection and to protect himself/herself."
Last month, the Top Court had sought instructions from the Centre on the issue of access to suitable accomodation & quarantine facilities for medical workers involved in treating COVID19 patients.
The order was passed in the PIL field by a Udaipur-based Doctor Arushi Jain who stated that medical personnel were "Corona Warriors" and must be protected and uplifted at all costs.
In response to the same, the Government through Advocate GS Makker has submitted that adequate measures are being taken at their end in consultation with ICMR, AIIMS, WHO and other experts in the medical field. However, the medical workers have already been imparted training on self-protection measures and they are responsible to protect themselves.
The affidavit states,
"Government of India along with State Governments has made substantive efforts to train the frontline healthcare personnel at all levels on infection prevention control practices."
In this context it is submitted,
"it is also his/her responsibility to adequately train himself/herself and take all possible measures for preventing the infection…if adequate measures are scrupulously observed, the HCW's chances of contracting the infection would not be higher than that of any other person…"
"the health care workers using appropriate Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) stand adequately protected against any potential exposure and subsequent infection. It is also submitted that a health care worker properly protected by Personal Protective Gears (PPE) in workplace settings carries no additional risk to their families or children, as suggested or otherwise."
The Ministry however acknowledges that there could be situations where there could be "inadvertent exposure" to the contagion, while at work, and the same has been adequately catered for in the Ministry's guidelines.
On May 15, 2020, an Advisory was issued by the Central Government to manage health care workers in COVID and Non-COVID areas of the Hospital, providing for assessing the risk of frontline healthcare personnel and categorizing them according to their risk.
These guidelines, the affidavit states, emphasize the role of taking adequate preventive measures by all health care workers (HCW) working in the hospital setting against the likelihood of contracting infection at their work places. Further, those workers who are at a high risk of exposure exposed to COVID are recommended 14 days quarantine.
It is further intimated that vide OM dated March 12, 2020, the Health Ministry had requested all the States/ UTs to establish Quarantine Centres for quarantining those who are potentially exposed.
Thus it is submitted that adequate facilities are already in place and the suggestions made on the basis of "personal perception" of each and every individual cannot be enforced.
The Ministry has contended that "the risk of frontline healthcare personnel would be mitigated if they use appropriate personal protective gears and undergo training in infection prevention control practices."
In her PIL, Dr. Jain had drawn the attention of the Court towards certain disturbing news articles coming from all across the country regarding the "harsh, deplorable and hard living conditions of doctors, nurses and support staff who are in the forefront for treating the patients suffering from Covid-19."
Contesting this submission the Central Government has submitted that the Petitioner has not placed an "iota of evidence" to show that the doctors are being diagnosed positive for Covid-19 even after using PPE appropriately.
"It is in absence of any empirical evidence the contentions raised by the petitioner cannot and ought not be gone into in the present proceedings; especially when the same were placed before the experts in the field by the Central Government who have, after giving it a proper consideration, have opined against adoption of the suggestions/grievance made by the petitioner," the affidavit states.