Even as Kerala is seeing a continuous spike in COVID 19 cases, nearly 375 junior nurses across the state have launched a stir demanding that they be paid at par with other nurses for the work they do. These junior nurses or interns, on Compulsory Nursing Services at Government Medical Colleges across Kerala, refused to return to work without a pay hike.
"We may be doing our compulsory internship. But we are at the forefront, too. We are on duty at COVID ICUs, at COVID wards, transition wards. But we get paid only Rs 450 per day. We want pay parity for the work we do," a 24-year-old nurse said.
"We work wearing PPE kits for around 6 hours. We attend to COVID patients, provide for their physical needs and psychological support. This is our duty and we stand by it, but we have repeatedly asked authorities to give us salaries equivalent to the work we do, like the other nurses," another 22-year-old junior nurse said.
The protest comes at a time when the state is bracing for 10,000 coronavirus cases a day by September, government medical colleges are scaling up their capacity in anticipation of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks and are hiring additional staff. Kerala is also starting a training programme for medical professionals who have signed up for COVID Brigade - a dedicated task force to combat the pandemic.
"The government is taking a favourable stand, and is seriously considering the demand of the nurses for a pay hike," Dr Jolly Jose, Joint Director for Nursing Studies told NDTV.
However, senior medical professionals have raised concerns over the timing of the strike.
"Our primary focus has been on two aspects - to ensure the curve of the pandemic is below the threshold of the health system and that we keep building our capacity. We want to be able to save lives. Our Case Fatality Rate is 0.36 per cent and we want to maintain it below 1," Dr Mohammad Asheel, part of the core team of advisers to state health ministry, told NDTV about the preparedness of the state in the wake of the expected jump in the numbers of coronavirus cases
The first case of coronavirus in India was recored in Kerala in January this year. Even as the state managed to contain the pandemic after the initial surge, it is now seeing a fresh rise in the number of cases. The state has reported over 50,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and 191 deaths so far.