Dr Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey writes: Before you test positive for Covid-19!
Two days ago, in Accra … She walked into the hospital calmly, confidently, very well-spoken and articulate. She was quickly directed to the screening table where nurses wearing appropriate protective equipment started taking her history. No, she had not travelled recently. No, there was no cough. No, she had had no contact with anyone with respiratory signs. She only had a low-grade fever and wanted to see a doctor.
In the consulting room, the history flipped. Yes, she had recently returned to Accra from the UK. Yes, she had a slight cough and had probably been in close contact with others with cold and running noses. She also felt she had been a little febrile the previous day. In other words, she had deliberately lied to the health workers at the screening desk! Doctors and nurses subsequently attempted to advise her to endeavour to give an accurate history for everyone’s good.
She became very upset and retorted that she had the right to decide at which point in the care process to tell the truth about her signs and symptoms. Clearly fitting the case definition for Coronavirus infection, she was quarantined, and a test requested. In the tense wait for the results, health workers and the lady are all sitting on tenterhooks. A week or so ago, I also heard about some travellers to Ghana allegedly taking Paracetamol tablets midair in order to escape quarantine measures on account of detected fever.
My plea is simple! Tell the truth about your symptoms and contacts to health workers.
Health workers are under enormous pressure. Before we can record objective parameters–temperature, chest signs etc.–before we can take samples for laboratory confirmation of Covid-19, all we have to lead us to the right diagnosis is an accurate and truthful history. Sending health professionals on a wild goose chase serves no one’s interests; certainly not yours, not theirs, not your close contacts’ and not the wider community’s. Please tell health professionals the truth about your symptoms, your travel history and your close contacts and trust that the information will be handled with the necessary discretion.
This also highlights the enormous high risks faced by health professionals at the frontline as they fight to curtail this pandemic, dealing in some instances with patients that appear yet to fully grasp the seriousness of the Covid-19 situation. The need for eternal vigilance and adequate practical measures to protect themselves as they engage patients cannot be overemphasized.
Leaders and managers have an urgent duty at this time to provide resources to frontline staff. A letter purportedly written by junior doctors at the Ridge Hospital calling for adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, and appropriate masks, ought to be treated with dispatch and the gaps expeditiously addressed not just in Ridge Hospital but at all screening and treatment centres nationwide.
Rather than the public sometimes subjecting those health workers seeking to remove themselves from imminent danger to abuse, let us move purposefully in support to address the root causes of their concerns and provide them with the needed psychological and material support to fight Covid-19.
Further, health professionals and other staff caring for suspected or confirmed cases have the right to expect managers to “provide adequate IPC and PPE supplies (masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer, soap and water, cleaning supplies) in sufficient quantity” according to the WHO.
In addition, health workers need appropriate working hours with breaks if they are not to burn out, provision of access to counselling services especially in instances where doctors and nurses have reportedly self- quarantined for hours while awaiting test results of patients seen by them without a word of comfort from managers, sometimes long after positive test results are announced publicly.
In the meantime, health professionals are still encouraged to treat patients with compassion and respect and to maintain patient confidentiality.