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Nagpur: Undergoing treatment in isolation without the presence of family members or loved ones can leave a negative impact on the mental health of COVID-19 patients as they may lose hope of recovering from the illness, medical experts feel.

They say that the presence of family members and regular interaction with them should be made an integral part of the coronavirus treatment standards as it has a therapeutic effect on the patients.

“Not permitting close family members to stay with or visit COVID-19 patients is cruel and inhumane, as infected persons often lose hope of recovering when they feel they are struggling alone,” said Dr Indrajit Khandekar of Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS) in Wardha.

He said that relatives who wish to stay with their loved ones, who are suffering from coronavirus, should be allowed to do so by wearing masks.

“The presence of close relatives and regular interaction of patients’ family with doctors and nurses should be an integral part of the treatment standards,” he said.

Interacting with the loved ones can be extremely therapeutic for patients and can give them the desire to survive in most difficult situations, he said.

Also read: COVID-19: Mumbai’s test positivity rate drops below 10%

Dr Khandekar further explained that some patients, who are unable to carry out their routine activities, such as eating, drinking and answering nature’s call, need constant help and moral support, which only a family member can give.

It is not possible for healthcare workers to look after each and every patient personally and provide help 24/7, he said.

Speaking about the point raised by Dr Khandekar, assistant professor of psychiatry at AIIMS Nagpur, Dr Sonakshi Jyrwa, said one needs to adopt a ‘balanced approach’ while treating COVID-19 patients.

At AIIMS Nagpur, a team of mental health professionals screen all patients post admission, counsel and provide them moral and psychological support they need, while a dedicated team engages with their family, updates them about their clinical status and counsels them, she said.

Such interventions have been found to be effective under present circumstances, she said.

While in case of critical patients or those with high support needs, the hospital may permit caregivers who are infected with coronavirus, which includes family members with mild symptoms, to be admitted in the same ward, Dr Jyrwa said.

Apart from this, the inherent risk of infection, besides the requirement of additional resources, such as PPE kits, and the training, monitoring and assistance of family members to ensure its effective use, in an overburdened healthcare system will be a challenge, she said.

“Finding a balanced approach is the key. Every healthcare organisation must prepare policies that are patient/family-centric that does not strain and impede the effective functioning of hospitals during the pandemic,” Dr Jywra said.

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