Low pay, 24-hour shifts and severe shortages of staff and protective gear have left many doctors on the front lines of India’s brutal pandemic surge near breaking point and fearful for their lives.
Coronavirus infections have killed at least 165,000 people in the vast South Asian nation – home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities – since the start of April.
Although India’s latest COVID-19 surge has eased recently, about 3,000 people are still dying every day and the chronically underfunded healthcare system remains under severe pressure.
“We are overworked, stressed and very frightened,” Radha Jain, a doctor in the capital New Delhi, told the AFP news agency.
The Indian Medical Association said more than 1,200 doctors have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including more than 500 in the last two months.
Deependra Garg, a doctor working in New Delhi’s outskirts, knows first-hand how dire the situation has become.
His wife Anubha, 48, a physician herself, fell ill with COVID-19 in April.
They started treatment at home but as her condition worsened, he, like so many other families, struggled to get a hospital bed.
He eventually found one almost 200 kilometres (120 miles) from their home. But Anubha, who was fully vaccinated, died within two weeks, leaving behind their 12-year-old daughter.
“We are on the front lines 24/7. We are exposed to a high virus load but we have to continue working against all odds as we have chosen this profession,” Garg said.
“We do not have a choice.”