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Opinion: In honor of physicians in the era of #COVID19

The Ethiopian team of physicians deployed to provide medical care to COVID-19 patients at Yeka Kotebe Hospital, a hospital with some 500 beds and is located in the capital Addis Abeba. The Ethiopian team comprises of 22 medical doctors and 150 nurses, as was reported by Addis Fortune weekly Newspaper. Image: Addis Frotune

Belete A. Desimmie,
@adbelete, (MD, PhD), for Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, March 24/2020 – Physicians and other healthcare workers have answered the internal call to action to halt the spread of COVID-19 and are doing what they have been called upon and trained to do – taking care of patients. These brave frontline men and women, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated in one of his latest address,are battling this invisible modern era enemy. Physicians across the globe have created countless social media groups to discuss what they can and cannot do as well as share their experience and the anticipated challenges about COVID-19. This experience has revealed the enormous potential of a newly budding frontier in medical practice i.e. telemedicine in patient care. Mainstream as well as social media are significantly facilitating systems change in medical information exchange and traditional patient care landscape.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, physicians as scientists, but not as fortune tellers, accurately anticipated the current situation. Do not get me wrong, there was a lot of self-questioning amongst them and they were not being alarmists.

It turns out that even the most capable nations were not prepared, and their healthcare infrastructures are in complete meltdown because of the speed of COVID-19 spread. Physicians and other health workers are risking their lives; a few of them, unfortunately, succumbed to COVID-19. In the west, we are witnessing that retired physicians offering to temporarily rejoin the workforce risking their lives. Some doctors who have been away from clinical medicine are also offering to work in the capacity of resident physicians who require direct supervision by qualified physicians. I, a physician-scientist and a virologist who work on HIV immunobiology, am one of them. The inherent understanding is because of our Hippocratic oath but it is our time to rise to the unprecedented challenge, support each other, and provide guidance during a time of increasing public anxiety and fear.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ethiopia is slowly rising. Justifiably, the public as well as the healthcare workers are panicking. For now, the situation in Ethiopia is not bad. In fact, we have to be grateful to our leaders for their efforts and continuous guidance on the COVID-19 emergency responses. I am also amazed by and proud of my Ethiopian colleagues who are constantly sharing evidence-based thoughts on the trends and anticipated challenges of COVID-19 in our setting. Their effort to prepare and constantly update the educational materials to create awareness on preventive precaution measures is uplifting. Kudos to all of them!

While researchers and physicians are on the frontline and leading by example to stop COVID-19, there is an unsettling and far more complacency as well as stubbornness in the general public. Flattening the curve of COVID-19 can only be achieved if we care for each other and work in harmony. Yes, there is a collective understanding that despite our own worries, health professionals must get to work. The lack of personal protective equipment has, however, made their workplaces unsafe. Yet, none of them that we know off are prioritizing their safety before duty. The newsfeeds that we get from China, Italy, Iran, and other countries are heartbreaking and physicians are self-isolated themselves by abandoning their livelihoods and families.

The world faces an immediate crisis. We all must play our parts to overcome this a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. COVID-19 should be a wakeup call and we should be prepared for new epidemics emergence; a matter not of if but of when. Ethiopia as a country should take drastic measures to improve our healthcare infrastructures and train highly skilled physicians and other healthcare workers. The worrying newsfeeds about the joblessness of newly graduated doctors and the deterioration of our medical education standards is unacceptable. In times like this, even the most developed healthcare systems have been challenged and over stretched. Our government must revisit and understand why the medical education and the health care facilities are not in sync to address the concerns of these young physicians who will always answer to the national calls to save the lives of their people and lead by example in crisis like COVID-19.  

Amid all of these, physicians kept their heads up and continued to abreast us by sharing evidence-based recommendations while tackling the constant flow of misinformation and myths about COVID-19 in real-time. For all these reasons, I would like to take a moment to thank my colleagues in Ethiopia and around the world, especially those physicians on the frontlines. Show your love and respect for physicians and other health professionals who dedicated their lives to fight COVID-19. AS

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