HEAD of the Jamaica Medical Doctor’s Association (JMDA) Dr Elon Thompson says all health care workers should be applauded for confronting, head-on, the health and psychological risks associated with the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, he stressed that emphasis is often placed on the important work being undertaken by doctors and nurses daily, but that the nation should also take into account the critical duties being undertaken by others, such as medical technologists and janitorial staff in the public health sector.
“I know a lot of emphasis has been placed on doctors and nurses [and] even within the fraternity there may be some kind of bad blood, for want of a better word, because the emphasis is being placed on doctors and nurses. I want to make it abundantly clear that there are other persons in the health care sector. We need to have that narrative because what a lot of persons probably don’t know is that outside of doctors and nurses there are other persons doing stellar work,” he said, pointing to medical technologists, for example, who process samples.
“The doctors or nurses may be taking the samples, but the medical technologists are the ones who have to run the over 1,500 samples; we [also] have porters who have to transport patients, and we have persons who clean these institutions [and] their jobs have been made absolutely more difficult by what is happening. I want our association to applaud all of these persons who have also been working on the front lines,” Dr Thompson stated.
He stressed that, as with doctors and nurses, the psychological impact of working in the health sector amid the COVID-19 crisis, has also been significant for these other medical personnel.
Meanwhile, he said the JMDA has engaged the Jamaica Psychological Association, as well as psychiatrists across institutions, to provide counselling services for its members.
“We have reached out to our membership to tell them that we are here, if it is that they need any assistance psychologically to overcome whatever hurdles they may have. A lot of it definitely has been a psychological strain, especially for those persons who are dealing with cases or suspected cases of COVID-19 on a daily basis. We do recognise that we have a job to do, and even before the coronavirus we have been doing that. Our job is a high-risk one, and outside of an outbreak a lot of us still have significant psychological, occupational health risk,” he said.
Dr Thompson argued that despite being trained to manage health crises, medical personnel have their own individual levels of psychological fortitude or weaknesses. “And it may not even be weaknesses.We may have different circumstances, different places in our lives where we are, and we have to be cognisant of that,” he said.
The JMDA head noted also that it is inevitable that there will be a psychological impact on the population as a whole during and after the COVID-19 outbreak, and the learning process must begin immediately.
“There are a lot of lessons that we have to learn [and] I don’t know how much learning we have been doing, but we have the time now to learn from a lot of what is happening in our society today. We need to look at public health, how it is structured, and are we able to sustain the effects of significant public health threats in the future. We need to strengthen public health, we need to not just say it, but we need to do it,” he said.
Dr Thompson said plans must be put in place now, and that institutions such as The University of the West Indies should take a lead role in studies on public health and improving strategies for the future.
“So moreso than psychological impact, after this disease has passed, I think is also all the other lessons that we have to learn,” he said, pointing out that this learning curve spans all sectors, and all Jamaicans. “There are lot of lessons to be learnt. It cannot be business as usual. I think coronavirus is the great equaliser,” he stressed.
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