The COVID-19 outbreak was declared as a global pandemic on the 11th of March, 2020. Although social distancing is the most effective way to contain the outspread of this virus, this is not easy to implement for healthcare professionals who require direct contact with COVID-19 patients and puts them under a high risk of being infected themselves. Frontline healthcare professionals are particularly vulnerable during this pandemic owing to their commitment to contain the disease.
Doctors form an essential part of an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We argue they have a duty to participate in pandemic response due to their special skills, but these skills vary between different doctors, and their duties are constrained by other competing rights. We conclude that while doctors should be encouraged to meet the demand for medical aid in the pandemic, those who make the sacrifices and increased efforts are owed reciprocal obligations in return.
Healthcare workers, primarily physicians, have been standing & shielding all of us at the forefront of responding to the pandemic, constantly adapting to changing information and coordinating efforts to build the strength of a country’s healthcare system. They have been playing a very pivotal & crucial role through screening, diagnosing, monitoring, triaging, and accommodating the patients with the most recent treatment plans. Furthermore, they provide safety precautions to the public that must be based on reliable scientific facts.
Healthcare professionals had been suffering from insomnia, loneliness, sleep disorder, and mental depression as a result of the workload and related stress. They were experiencing anxiety attacks as well as frustration due to a lack of knowledge, environmental changes, and fear of infection both by themselves and by their family members.
The Section 5(2) Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette, and Ethics) Regulations, 20021 elaborates that “whenever an epidemic occurs, a physician should not abandon his duty for the fear of contacting the disease”. The only exception will be a situation where the physician himself has a medical condition, which places him in a very high-risk category upon exposure to contagion. The responsible physician is expected to create awareness about the disease in the society and work in accordance with the framework of established rules and regulations.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 2(the ED Act), was invoked by the Indian Government on March 11, 2020, empowering both the Central and the State government(s) to take actions to prevent spread of such diseases. The provisions of this Act are now applicable to medical professionals and general public, and this includes the patients. Section 4 of this Act, is exclusively applicable to the healthcare professionals, and provides legal protection to every person who does any action, in good faith. This Section provides immunity from legal action for any healthcare worker acting under the provisions of the Act.
From both an ethical, social and pragmatic point of view doctors must be viewed in the context of safe lives with the competence of fulfilling multiple competing demands. We should be encouraging doctors to meet the demand for medical aid in the pandemic, as for those who made & are still making the sacrifices and increased efforts are owed reciprocal obligations in return. The physicians have a moral duty to treat, but they do have the same human rights as all citizens and need to be protected against infectious diseases. The hospitals, professional regulatory bodies, and governments must ensure and provide the necessary resources, to protect the staff caring for the infected patients (not just PPE), but also training, environmental controls, and policies and procedures to prevent spread. A balance of efficiency and innovation is a pressing priority. It is the need of the hour to be mindful of the existing laws and our rights and duties in the era of current pandemic.