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HIGHLIGHTS

  • Couple question govt on PPE guidelines, procurement
  • Accuse govt of seeking to avoid transparency
  • Dr Viz says motivated to set example for unborn child

An Indian-origin doctor couple is taking the UK government to court over a discrepancy in the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidance given to the British National Heath Service (NHS) and that prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), besides other issues.

Dr Meenal Viz, a clinical fellow in medicine, and her general practitioner trainee husband Dr. Nishant Joshi are asking the UK government “what they are basing their guidelines on, and where is the scientific evidence to say that it is ok to be changed in certain settings.”

A second question: Why were British manufacturers not involved in the procurement of PPEs?

“We asked them to respond to us within 48 hours, because we knew that if they respond to us within that timeline we could change policies — we could work on changing something and that could protect more healthcare workers. That was the whole aim,” Dr. Meenal Viz told India today TV.

But it’s been four weeks now, she said.

“We have just received the response from the government saying they don’t want to release their statements or their letters to the public, and it is very clear that they are trying to hide something from everybody. Again, in a case about transparency, there is no transparency. It just does seem like they understand what we are trying to get to.”

“We are going to the next step now and filing proceedings for a judicial review,” said Dr. Viz, who is currently eight months pregnant.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

PPE shortages existed since the beginning of March, but the more worrying part, according to Dr. Viz, is that guidelines “were being changed according to the shortages and not according to the science”.

The moment of truth came when a pregnant nurse, Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, contracted the coronavirus and eventually died after delivering a baby boy. This was when advice for pregnant women wasn’t clear.

Dr. Viz didn’t know the nurse but attended her funeral. The sight shook her.

“[Mahatma] Gandhi said once: ‘Gently you can shake the world’. And those words resonate quite a lot with me. Her husband stood there with such composure….He said to me we will succeed, and we will fight for your justice.”

The funeral, she said, “gave me a bigger picture of what is really happening. We talk of 20 thousand, 30 or 36 thousand deaths. I saw one funeral where family members were mourning to an extent where they could not physically move their bodies because they were so upset. They were on their floor crying because they had lost their loved one in such a senseless way.”

LETTER TO HER UNBORN CHILD

Dr. Viz has written a letter to her unborn baby girl, Radhika, “just in case”.

Describing the ordeal of fighting while pregnant to India Today TV, she said, “the scariest thing me is for my child to come into this world — to this country — and when she is old enough to understand this pandemic and what’s happening…if she says to me then, ‘What did you do?’ and if I have nothing to say to her, then that will be the biggest embarrassment to me.”

A statement released by the couple said, “The government continues to seek to avoid transparency as to the risks such workers are facing with different levels of PPE and confirmation [sic] they are entitled to refuse to work where they consider the risks too great. They should be entitled to compliance with WHO guidelines for all of their work. The government may be facing operational pressures, but it is nothing compared to the pressures and risks faced by frontline health care workers with inadequate PPEs.”

Estelle Dehon, a lawyer representing the couple, said, “This case is about protecting frontline health and social care workers and ensuring they have the minimal protections they need to work as safely as possible. In the face of what the government itself calls ‘acute shortages’ of PPEs, there remain some baseline protections which the government must respect. The WHO guidelines are designed to maintain those protections despite acute shortages of PPE and the government has not explained why it has taken a different approach that causes greater risk for frontline staff.”

A crowdfunding page has been set up by the couple to raise funds for the expensive legal costs and protect them from any fallout from the case.

They are fighting so that families like Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong’s don’t have to suffer silently any further. If they win the case, the funds will be used for the welfare of such families.

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