From realizing the importance of critical care to determining correct course of treatment were some of the biggest learnings and challenges faced by healthcare professionals in the last two years after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country.
It was on January 30, 2020 when a third-year medical student from Wuhan university tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the country's first COVID-19 patient, days after she had returned home following semester holidays.
Recalling the turbulent journey, Dr. Yatin Mehta, Chairman of Medanta Institute of Critical Care and Anesthesiology at Medanta - The Medicity, Gurugram said, the importance of critical care and sound infrastructure has been realized during this period.
"As a nation spending 1.3 percent of its GDP on health, we now plan to increase it to 3 percent. We also learned the importance of private healthcare which supported the government at every step to contain and treat the pandemic without any thought of self-illness, pay cuts, and even death of HCW's (healthcare workers)," he said.
"Our hospitals and ICU beds with oxygen and ventilators have increased substantially over the last two years and we are ready to face another wave (but praying that it never occurs). It's been a great learning experience for the doctors, public health professionals, and nations and we hope that we shall overcome," he added.
Dr. Manav Manchanda, Director, Respiratory Medicine at Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad said the biggest challenge was how to tackle the pandemic in the absence of any definitive treatment and counseling patients and attendants while fighting the fear of getting infected.
"As a healthcare worker, it seems impossible to predict what lies in the future. A fourth wave could be deadlier or it could be the end of Covid with mass vaccination and Covid becoming the norm of the day like any normal flu," he said.
Dr. Sushant Chhabra, Head of Department of Emergency Medicine at Delhi-based HCMCT Manipal Hospital, said the last two years have taught them how to cope with pressure at personal and professional levels.
"COVID-19 created a havoc globally. We faced a shortage of beds, ventilators, medicines, and many people lost their lives. At times, as a doctor, even we were helpless," he said.
The health workforce suffered from sleep disorders and mental depression owing to a higher workload and this was another challenge faced by healthcare workers, said Dr. Rajendra Patankar, CEO of Jupiter Hospital, Pune.
Diagnostic centers which were at the forefront of conducting Covid tests said the biggest learning for them was how to reduce the burden of unnecessary documentation and bring automation wherever necessary and protect health workers from physical and biological hazards.
"There is still paucity of testing facilities, sparse surveillance, and poor awareness among masses, which are major challenges in the ongoing pandemic," Dr. V L Ramprasad, Chief Executive Officer, MedGenome Labs Limited said. He said further research is warranted to explore the psychological distress and remedies among these frontline workers during and after the ongoing pandemic crisis.
Dr. Gauri Agarwal Founder & Director SOI and Genestrings Diagnostics, said going forward, all hospitals should have a detailed disaster plan that includes the following: what areas of the hospital to expand to and in what order, and how to increase the ability to care for incoming patients.
"Healthcare workers were labeled as heroes which implied they possessed superhuman strength walking in hot zones of COVID-19. We need to provide stress management and resilience training, recharge rooms, and easy to access mental health resources," she said.