Remembering the fallen

Every year on the 28th of April is recognised as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work by the International Labour Organisation(ILO). The theme for 2020: Stop the pandemic – Safety and health at work can save lives, reminds us of the battle all of us are fighting. The battlefields are in hospitals and the front lines are healthcare workers. The battle which started in China has become a world war. It is not man against man, but man against an almost invisible enemy, the SARS CoV2 that causes COVID 19.

The frontliners are facing immense challenges, working under severe constraints with limited resources to fight the battle. Many of them are working extended hours in crowded wards and hospitals, with limited access to life-saving equipment and personal protective equipment. They need support to manage emotional pressure and work overload while balancing other responsibilities like caring for their own families and, of course, themselves. And many of them have fallen while serving in a healthcare system that is sometimes unsupportive and unforgiving.

Malaysia has recorded three death among healthcare workers, with the recent death, a 32-year-old, nurse from a specialist hospital in Muar, Johor succumbed to COVID-19 infection. Just today, we hear of the news of a top New York City doctor who took her own life. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” said the father of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, who worked at a Manhattan hospital hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Moving forward we must continue to support our healthcare workers and provide them with all the tools needed to manage the patients and to work in a safe and healthy environment. According to Dr Jayakumar Gurusamy, Professor of Community and Occupational Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Melaka Manipal Medical College, it is vital to train more occupational physicians to helm the occupational medicine clinics at hospitals, as they can play a vital role in safeguarding the health and safety of employees during disease outbreaks or pandemics.

He continued by highlighting the modern healthcare facilities, is doted with an array of biological, physical, chemical, ergonomic, and psychosocial hazards. He further said that these hazards have given rise to many health concerns for the working population.

The ILO director-general Guy Rydee aptly said: “We need special measures to protect the millions of healthcare workers and other workers who risk their own health for us every day.” On this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we must not forget those who have sacrificed their life and support those who are still fighting our battle in the front line.

This article was also published in the Sun Daily newspaper.

Article written by Dr Victor Hoe, Professor of Occupational and Public Health.

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