At NIC, ‘better safe than sorry’ is the buzzword

Hakim Hayat

Gloves, aprons, scrubs, surgical masks, goggles, face visors and respirator masks – these are among the items on the checklist for healthcare workers prior to work at Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah (PMMPMHAMB) Hospital, which has been turned into the designated isolation centre for COVID-19 patients in the country.

Siti Norsharihamdinah binti Haji Awang Besar, a nurse at the hospital, admitted, “It is definitely uncomfortable to wear a protective suit. With so many layers, it can get very stuffy. It can be difficult to breathe normally, especially after a long period of time.”

The PPE is not limited to healthcare workers but also security personnel and janitors. There are also strict rules to adhere to, such as sanitising oneself before donning the protective suit.

Siti, while briefing the media on the facilities, said she was in the middle of completing her in-service studies when the emergence of COVID-19 in Brunei pulled her back to work.

“It is definitely not easy for all of us,” she said. “We are risking our lives but this is our job. As health workers, we are committed to helping Brunei combat this epidemic.”

Staff helping each other with personal protective equipment (PPE) before reporting for duty at the National Isolation Centre (NIC) in Tutong. PHOTOS: HAKIM HAYAT
Dr Haji Muhammad Syafiq bin Abdullah, Chief Consultant of the COVID-19 Clinical Management Team, speaks to the media

The coronavirus pandemic poses an extraordinary challenge to the world.

Currently, it has reached over 200 countries, infecting over two million people. It has upended the lives of children and their families everywhere, placing a huge strain on economies and burdening the already overstretched health and education systems.

Since the first COVID-19 case on March 9, doctors and nurses across the country have been rounded up at the Tutong hospital.

Dr Haji Muhammad Syafiq bin Abdullah, Chief Consultant of the COVID-19 Clinical Management Team, is leading the charge at the National Isolation Centre (NIC) and briefing the Ministry of Health (MoH) daily on the state of the outbreak.

He said while stress and exhaustion are part and parcel of the healthcare line, there are measures in place to avoid burnout.

“They are given ample time off to rest in between shifts. Food and breaks are there for those who need them,” he said.

As some doctors hail from other districts, accommodation is provided as an option.

“Of course, they can go home. But if they do, they will have to immediately disinfect themselves and wash their clothes,” he said, adding that “I always assume the worst and won’t allow myself to be complacent. So every time I go home, I clean myself outside my home first before going straight to the bathroom to shower”.

The chief consultant’s daily tasks include coordinating with the MoH Emergency Operations Centre via teleconferencing every afternoon.

“This is where we brief them on the status of each case, which will then be relayed to the public during the daily press conference,” he said.

The NIC comprises an intensive care unit (ICU) and an isolation area for COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.

Patients are closely monitored throughout their 14-day isolation at the centre.

Dr Haji Muhammad Syafiq said there is currently no standard treatment for COVID-19, thus at the NIC, each treatment is tailor-made for the patient in question, based on the symptoms exhibited and medical history.

“For example,” he said, “we administer paracetamol to feverish patients, or medication to arrest further damage to the lungs or antivirals for those who need them.” As for asymptomatic patients, he said, they are provided proper nutrients and supplements to ensure strong immune system to fight off the coronavirus.

On NIC’s discharge protocol, he said it is among the strictest in the region as each patient has to undergo three exit swab tests to confirm absence of the virus. In addition, they have to undergo two weeks of self-isolation at home, during which more tests are carried out to ensure no relapses.