Ensure safety of healthcare workers, strictly implement Epidemic Disease Act: Centre to states

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Resident doctors, wearing PPE kits, in the COVID-19 ward of the Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital, in Mumbai, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. PTI

New Delhi: The Union Health Ministry has urged all states and Union Territories to review in detail and ensure prompt steps for the safety and well-being of healthcare workers while strictly implementing the amended Epidemic Disease Act.

Healthcare workers are the most crucial resources in COVID-19 management on all fronts, said Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal in a letter to additional chief secretaries, principal secretaries and health secretaries of all states and Union Territories.

On multiple occasions, the Health Ministry has highlighted the need to ensure the safety and security of healthcare workers at their living and working premises, he said.

"Our endeavours to manage COVID-19 are replete with examples of commitment by our healthcare workers at all levels. While the country at large has applauded the efforts of the health fraternity, there were examples of them being stigmatized and even violence resorted to against healthcare workers," the officer pointed out.

Recently, there have been reports of physical violence against doctors, healthcare workers and other professionals particularly from Assam, West Bengal and Karnataka, the letter by Agarwal stated.

"Such incidents impact the morale of our healthcare workforce who have shown exemplary commitment against all odds in COVID-19 management.

"Considering the importance of the issue, it is requested that all states may undertake a detailed review and ensure that prompt and necessary steps are taken for healthcare workers safety and wellbeing besides strict implementation of the amended Epidemic Disease Act," he said.

The joint secretary in the health ministry said the Centre had brought an ordinance and later notified it as an act, under which violence against healthcare personnel is a non-bailable and cognizable offence.

On April 22 last year, the Health Ministry had issued an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, providing protection to healthcare personnel and their property against violence during epidemics. It was notified as an act on September 29, 2020.

The amended Act states that "whoever commits or abets the commission of an act of violence against healthcare service personnel, or causes damage or loss to any property" shall be punished with imprisonment and with a fine. Such offences are also cognizable and non-bailable, the letter highlighted.

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