‘Didn’t Deserve This End:’ Give Frontline Workers Dignity in Death

The doctors treating COVID-19 patients deserve dignity of death.

Published
Coronavirus
4 min read

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Producer: Smitha TK

‘He didn’t deserve this end.’

On 19 April, 55-year-old neurosurgeon, Dr Simon Hercules, also the MD of New Hope Hospital in Chennai, passed away after contracting coronavirus from the patients he was caring for.

At around 9pm, his family and fellow doctors, accompanied by officials from Chennai's municipal corporation, were on their way to a burial ground when they were diverted to a second place.

When they approached the burial ground at TP Chathram, over 50-60 people surrounded them. Sticks and stones were thrown at those already grieving the death of their father, their colleague, their friend and a frontline worker essential to the fight against COVID-19.

‘He didn’t deserve this end.’ said Dr Pradeep, a friend and a colleague, who had to dig a spot with the help of two ward boys and a policeman to bury his friend.

Unfortunately, this wasn't an aberration.

On 19 April, 55-year-old neurosurgeon, Dr Simon Hercules, also the MD of New Hope Hospital in Chennai, passed away after contracting coronavirus from the patients he was caring for.
On 19 April, 55-year-old neurosurgeon, Dr Simon Hercules, also the MD of New Hope Hospital in Chennai, passed away after contracting coronavirus from the patients he was caring for.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

On 13 April, Dr Laxmi Narayanan Reddy, an orthopaedic surgeon from Nellore passed away due to COVID-19. For hours, health workers tried to plead with agitators in Ambattur, Chennai who stood on the road not allowing them to cremate his body.

On 15 April, it took nearly 36 hours to find a burial ground for Dr John L Sailo, the 69-year-old founder of the Bethany hospital in Shillong, Meghalaya. Several locations were met with protests.

Dr Sailo’s funeral at Raitsamthiah Presbyterian Church cemetery.
Dr Sailo’s funeral at Raitsamthiah Presbyterian Church cemetery.
(Photo Courtesy: Patricia Mukhim)

White Alert Issued by Indian Medical Association

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for implementation of a Special Central Law Against Violence on Doctors.

“IMA has maintained utmost restraint and patience in spite of extreme provocations. Doctors have been abused, beaten up, denied entry and residence. Obstruction to cremation is the last straw that IMA can bear. If dignity is denied even in death, our patience and restraint lose their value. We demand a special Central Law against violence on doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and hospitals by an ordinance (sic),” reads a letter issued by the IMA’s National president Dr Rajan Sharma and general secretary Dr RV Asokan.

The letter also states that a white alert has been issued for Wednesday, 9 pm. Doctors and hospitals across the country will be lighting candles as a sign of protest.

The IMA further adds that if the centre does not take notice of the White Alert and doesn’t implement a law against violence towards doctors and hospitals, a ‘Black Day’ will be declared subsequently on Thursday.

Fear Fuelling Rumours

So why are people protesting? Is it lack of empathy? Or misinformation and fear? When probed, people give reasons such as -

"The virus will spread through the soil.’‘

"He is not a resident of this area. So why should we allow this?’‘

"Whatsapp said so.'

Over 50-60 people surrounded the doctors, family members and hospital staff who had come for the burial of Dr Simon.
Over 50-60 people surrounded the doctors, family members and hospital staff who had come for the burial of Dr Simon.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

‘People Suffering From Acute Information Deficiency Syndrome’

The Quint spoke to Dr T Jacob John, a retired Professor of Virology from CMC Vellore, who explained  that the Indian public is suffering from Acute Information Deficiency Syndrome.

“The government is treating people as primary school children. ‘Do as you are told’ is the government advisory. Instead, inform about the virus, how it can spread, why people should wear masks and must wash hands.”
Dr T Jacob John, Retired Professor of Virology, CMC Vellore

He believes the society needs a social vaccine, which is a metaphor for social and behavioural measures that governments can use to raise public consciousness. He clarified that both burial and cremation grounds are safe spaces for COVID-19 patients as the pathogen novel coronavirus transmits from one person to another through droplets.

“A dead person cannot sneeze or cough or breathe. So all ways of infection spread stops the moment a person dies. And once the body is buried, the virus begins to die inside as well.”
Dr T Jacob John, Retired Professor of Virology, CMC Vellore

As long as you take all precautions while handling the body, and it is disinfected and no person is allowed to touch the body, there is zero per cent chance of infection spread.

“Common sense cannot be overruled by fear and the government needs to give comprehensive information so people are fully aware of the pandemic, risks and precautions to take,” he said.

And while the country continues to battle against this pandemic, let this violence and indignity meted out to doctors, who have dedicated their lives to saving people, stop.

They do not deserve this.

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