What America Can Learn From How South Korea Protects Its Doctors From the Coronavirus

North Korea, COVID-19, Coronavirus, America, Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump
March 30, 2020 Topic: Public Health Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: South KoreaCOVID-19CoronavirusAmericaSOPDoctors

What America Can Learn From How South Korea Protects Its Doctors From the Coronavirus

Can Seoul’s success be repeated?

These guidelines specifically cover every type of personnel imaginable: x-ray nurses, respiratory nurses, biohazard waste handlers, and even sterilization teams. Yes, Korean DSs have dedicated sterilization teams that regularly clean emergency vehicles, respiratory patient wards, and isolation quarters. Even ventilation cleaners are given explicit guidelines. 

Although I have observed some instances of hospitals and clinics running out of gloves or masks, occasionally forcing personnel to fall short of the requirements, the overall level of compliance has been extraordinary. With the Korean government actively supporting and coordinating activities while providing clear and consistent guidelines, the local doctors and nurses I have spoken to all say confusion and hesitation has been virtually non-existent. Many credit this to annual infectious disease training all personnel are required to take.

When I mentioned this training to David, he just sighed heavily, telling me many of the nurses in his hospital either don’t wear masks or don’t know how to use them. He described a pair staffing an information desk who would put their masks on only when a visitor came but then take them off as soon as the visitor left. He said many of his colleagues don’t yet seem to fully grasp the importance and reasoning behind personal protection, making him worry an in-facility outbreak is inevitable.

Manufacturers do their share

The Korean SOP, understandably, creates high demand for protective gear (especially masks) and sterilization chemicals (alcohol and bleach). The domestic manufacturing of masks and their distribution nationally by day of the week have been well-documented. Receiving less attention, however, are the Korean wine and beer manufacturers who have shifted their activities to produce tons of alcohol for medical use. This cooperation from the manufacturing sector is an integral part of the Korean SOP, something other countries will likely need to emulate if outbreaks persist into the summer.

In closing, I do acknowledge some elements of the Korean SOP might be difficult to implement in certain contexts. Many components I describe, for example, connect to or rely on testing, which remains a primary deficiency across the United States and Europe. Here too, the manufacturing sector has a critical role to play. 

Even without testing, however, I think it is immensely important to share information about the procedures Korea has used to help protect its healthcare staff. As the pandemic continues, these professionals will be risking their lives on the front lines to save us. All should be done to shield them from unnecessary risk. I have been volunteering to help, have you?

Justin Fendos is a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea.

Image: Reuters