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Doctors and nurses dying as coronavirus cases surge in Indonesia

Sydney Morning Herald - July 30, 2020

James Massola and Karuni Rompies – At least 70 doctors and 50 nurses have died from coronavirus in Indonesia, with hundreds more contracting the disease while fighting the pandemic.

The Indonesian Medical Association estimates between 200 and 300 of the country's 160,000 doctors had been infected by the virus. In the second week of July alone 14 doctors died from the disease.

The National Nurses Association said that at least 300 of the country's 1.3 million nurses have contracted the disease, but cautioned the figure could be higher. In both instances, accurate data is not readily available.

The associations are calling for regular testing of medical workers, guaranteed access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and greater education to slow the spread of the disease.

Indonesia had recorded 104,432 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, while 4975 people have died. Epidemiologists suggest the true infection and death rates could be much higher because of the relative low testing rate of about 5200 per million people.

The number of daily cases has been rising for more than a month, following the government's decision to begin easing social restrictions at the start of June, and averaging about 1600 per day. Wednesday's 2381 new cases was the second highest to date, with Jakarta province topping the list with 577 new infections.

Doctor Erlina Burhan, COVID-19 spokeswoman for the Medical Association, said that in the early days of the pandemic, a shortage of personal protective equipment had been a major problem for medical workers but that had eased.

"In the beginning of the pandemic and doctors were exhausted and their immune system was down. The number of patients went down in May and June but now in July we received more patients again here in Persahabatan hospital," she said.

Dr Zubairi Djoerban, also from the Medical Association, said there was no regular testing for health workers.

"Tests are conducted only when there is a case. As in my hospital [a private, referral hospital], one employee was infected by COVID-19 then all hospital workers – not only doctors – took PCR tests. It was free, it was carried out by the Jakarta health office," he said.

"I think all medical workers in hospitals and in health clinics must do regular swab tests and it should be free of charge."

Harif Fadhillah, chairman of Nurse's Association, said his members were complaining about the lack of regular tests for workers on the front line.

"I think it is important to get periodic testing. At the beginning of COVID-19, nurses were given PCR tests but only in that one instance. We don't get tested anymore. It should be a periodic PCR test, do it every two weeks," he said.

The shortages of PPE reported in the early days of the pandemic – there were reports of medical workers wearing cheap plastic rain jackets in March because of shortages – had been dealt with, Harif said.

"The government should also provide more and more PPE. We don't have a PPE problem now but we have to bear in mind that the pandemic still has a long way to go."

Front-line medical workers around the world have been struck down by COVID-19. By late April in Italy, for example, an estimated 150 doctors had died from the disease. By late May, the Guardian reported at least 200 medical workers had died there and in June, the Washington Post reported that at least 400 medical workers had died in the United States.

In Australia, one medical worker, a nurse, is reported to have died from the virus so far but in Victoria, the epicentre of the disease outbreak in Australia, 884 healthcare workers have been infected, with 502 cases still active.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/doctors-and-nurses-dying-as-coronavirus-cases-surge-in-indonesia-20200730-p55gw2.html