Monday, June 21, 2021
Column

Coronavirus Cogitations: Clarity of communication needed

Monalisa Changkija

The Principal Director of our Department of Health and Family Welfare issued an Advisory, dated April 10, 2020, which had done its run on the social media a few days ago and has probably slipped out of public memory by now. It was a usual sort of Advisory, containing 10 points, except for the very first “Advice”, which stated: “No hospital based personnel are to enter the office premises. Instead of physical visit, they are advised to leverage electronic means of communication including Webinar.” The introductory paragraph of this Advisory stated: “In addition to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on this infection of common public places including offices issued by GoI (enclosed herein), all concerned are requested to strictly follow the Advisory given below to maintain safe environment at the work place.”

No doubt, our Department of Health and Family Welfare is merely following GoI’s SOP guidelines but Point 1 of the Advisory is absurd. Since all offices were closed since March 25, and movements restricted, why and how would hospital based personnel go to offices when they are supposed to be present at hospitals? Because the Department of Health and Family Welfare is exempted from the lockdown, its offices have surely been functional but to specify “hospital based personnel” seems strange because it creates the impression of discrimination against them ~ even if it is a GoI SOP guideline. And discrimination inevitably leads to stigmatization. This Point seems to convey that hospital based personnel could be infected with the Coronavirus hence they must not go to offices. But how can anyone assume and presume that hospital based personnel could be infected without testing? So then, we must ask how many of our hospital based personnel have been tested.

This order also seems to give the impression that the Advisory relates specifically to the offices of the Department of Health and Family Welfare. Which other offices would hospital based personnel go to when there is a lockdown on and offices are closed? A Laxman-Rekha seems to be drawn between hospital-based personnel and those at the Department of Health and Family Welfare Secretariat and Directorate and its various ancillary offices across the state thereby a “caste system” being put in place, doesn’t it? Obviously there is some shortage of health and medical personnel hence the Government had asked retired doctors, nurses, lab technicians, etc., to volunteer but what about doctors pen-pushing in the Directorate and other offices? Shouldn’t all these doctors, still in service, be sent to the field first before bringing in the retired people only as a last ditch measure? Why not let the secretarial staff get on with the pen-pushing for surely it cannot be business as usual at any office now? It’s not as if the Department of Health and Family Welfare would collapse without doctors pen-pushing in the offices. But public health would certainly suffer if doctors are not in the battle frontlines.

Point 1 somehow also comes across to me as a very oblique way of discriminating and stigmatizing the first firing line of frontline workers, who evidently stand between the devil and deep blue sea. Perhaps unwittingly, but this Point seems to be very callous. If the message in this Point has been misread then it requires clarity of communication. This has become more pertinent now after our first positive case was detected and people have started stigmatizing health workers of Zion Hospital. Tomorrow it could be another hospital. What would happen if frontline hospital based personnel of the COVID-19 Hospital, Dimapur, for instance, are stigmatized and faced with the privations of stigmatization?

When health frontline workers were attacked and stigmatized in some parts of the country, we all said “how terrible”, “how horrible” but soon enough we are doing the same thing. It’s not even a week since we celebrated Easter Sunday but we have already started betraying the Lord several times over. So much for us being Christians! So much for our Christianity! So much for “Nagaland for Christ”! See, none of us can suspect/accuse anyone of being COVID-19 positive without proof ~ after tests. The other scary fact is that a lot of us could be asymptomatic carriers, which we wouldn’t know unless we are tested. Besides, no one needs to have a travel history to be susceptible to the virus and/or an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

Therefore it is incomprehensible why some are enclosing and barricading their colonies and neighbourhoods and preventing entry and exit. You see, those very persons, youth leaders, whoever, manning these entry and exit points, could very well be asymptomatic carriers ~ or even positive cases. But we will never know till they are tested. The question is: how many of them have been tested? So, the best thing for everyone is to remain indoors and allow the Government frontline workers get on with their job of enforcing the lockdown. The very act of enclosing and barricading colonies and neighbourhoods and preventing entry and exit within and without these enclosed areas are also a form of discriminating and stigmatizing people of other colonies and neighbours. On what basis can anyone assert that “my colony/neighbourhood is free of the virus but others aren’t so we have enclosed and barricaded our colony/neighbourhood and have disallowed entry and exit?” Moreover, colonies/neighbourhoods aren’t sovereign entities ~ hopefully our Government has taken note of that. If the lockdown norms are followed scrupulously there is no need for any colony/neighbourhood to be doubly locked down by those outside the Government system and structures ~ no doubt, with the best of intentions but perhaps also with a lot of ignorance therefore fear and apprehensions, as also biases, prejudices and blatant chauvinism and racism.

I have added chauvinism and racism because one is hearing gory tales of non-locals being discriminated vis-à-vis distribution of PDS supplies in some colonies at Dimapur. The Government must probe these allegations and issue strict directives to gaonburras, village councils and others responsible for distribution of PDS supplies to stop such discrimination, if such allegations are found true. But, of course, no one will confess to such discriminatory practices and such discrimination could be as regards the amount distributed so the discriminated will say that they received PDS supplies unaware of how much they are supposed to get. The Government is obliged to deal with this and ensure that no one is deprived and denied of their fair share. A fair share of PDS supplies are not charity but a fundamental right of every citizen of this country, whatever the race, religion and gender. If even at times such as these we cannot be human, we probably were never human and we will never be human ~ and our claims of believing in the Risen and Living Christ is a blatant lie.

 Nurses demanding PPEs is also their right ~ the right to life, enshrined in the Constitution. They have withdrawn their demand later (or have been asked to withdraw) ~ hopefully they have been provided with the necessary protective gear now that our Government has realized the inadequacies of our healthcare delivery system. Private Ambulance Drivers’ exasperation at being excluded from the protective and safety protocol and their cry for survival needs such as food is also reasonable ~ and their fundamental right. When indispensable people like them are forgotten and neglected at a time like this, the Government shouldn’t claim its preparedness to fight the pandemic. It is not only health and medical personnel, police, and personnel of other core Departments within the Government system and structure that are frontline workers. It is the invisible, unheard and unheralded service providers such as cleaners, sweepers, drivers, cooks, etc, that keep the wheels of the war machine well oiled ~ so they deserve first-rate protective gear too, which the Government must provide.

It is well within the right of the Government to clamp down on its employees and restrict their direct access to the media. However, it may serve the Government well ~ and in the process the people and state of Nagaland ~ to soul-search why some Government employees feel the need to cry on the media’s shoulders. Any human being can bang her head against an unrelenting wall only this much. Meanwhile, it is for the Government to find out who are leaking official orders, directive, etc., and stop diverting public’s attention away from its job. The public may be forbidden to circulate them electronically, as has been intimated yesterday and cautioned under numerous Sections of the law but the source of this leakage is the issue hence these “leakers” must be found first and exemplarily penalized. Needless to say that these “leakers” must be some esteemed employees of the state Government ~ especially now after the lockdown began. A lot of backyard and house cleaning awaits, yes? It is also understandable that when anyone is caught on the back-foot ~ or red-handed ~ oxygen stops entering the head, the heart skips several beats and everything blanks out for a while. In such situations, everyone and everything is disoriented ~ leading to a lot of mindless and reckless thoughts, words and deeds. The secret to dealing with such situations, I am told, is to take a deep breath and remain calm.

We will leave the Government to do that but we also need to do our part so keep washing your hands but don’t forget the rest of your body too, maintain personal and public hygiene, wear face mask, practice social distancing and stay indoors, unless absolutely necessary. And, for heaven’s sake don’t panic, don’t discriminate and don’t stigmatize ~ discard your biases and prejudices. Know that anyone of us could be the Coronavirus’ next victim. Another thing ~ stop being juvenile on social media. Social media is a very powerful tool so use it for the betterment of humankind, not as a great means to speculate, allege and gossip.

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