The Covid crisis as seen through the eyes of a Public Health Inspector

Eranda Pushpakumara

Public Health Inspectors (PHI)

The concept of “contact tracing and isolation” is vital for preventing the spread of Covid-19. Public Health Inspectors (PHI), like Eranda Pushpakumara, were at the forefront of this task.

“Prevention is always better than cure. With only around 500 ICU beds and 50,000 hospital beds in our small nation, prevention is the only option. It’ll be impossible to cope with community spread with the limited resources that we have,” states Eranda. “The fear of the devastating consequence we will have to face if we don’t do a thorough job is what kept me going through these difficult times”.

PHIs are the first responders when a suspected case emerges. Eranda has to assess the patient’s contact history and send him to the nearest hospital. He has to then trace contact of immediate family members who are referred to as “first-line”, which includes domestic staff as well. “Contact tracing is a rigorous process”, he says, “it will include all places they visited like worksites, hometowns, and tracking public transport routes. The ones who were in contact with the family members are the second line, and we have to go all the way up to the third line of tracing”, he explains. “Many countries only perform first-line tracing”, he continues, “but the second line is crucial to stop the spread.”

Eranda is also tasked with the duty of deciding whether to home quarantine or send suspected patients to the quarantine centres. “When a patient lives in close quarters, like a slum, we transport everyone residing there to the centre to prevent spread.” If it is a home quarantine, he gives the family his contact details for any emergency which also includes delivery of essentials and medical supplies. “This will give them no valid reason to go out”, he says.

Eranda worked tirelessly around the clock during the three-month lockdown making sure his fears don’t turn into a reality. Unfortunately, many people do not comprehend the gravity of the service and commitment of the public health sector. The work and time invested by the PHIs in our country need to be acknowledged and valued just as much as other frontline workers during this pandemic.