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Coronavirus: In Wuhan, a French doctor stayed back: ‘My duty to protect my patients’

The WHO has confirmed 2,121 deaths and over 75,000 cases in China, and the country is still under high risk. But despite a lockdown, Wuhan’s residents remain “brave, calm,

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: February 22, 2020 2:49:57 am
Coronavirus: In Wuhan, a French doctor stayed back: ‘My duty to protect my patients’ Dr Philippe Klein with his team in Wuhan.

Last month, as the world scrambled to get out of Wuhan, a doctor from France decided to stay back in the Chinese city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak.

It was a big decision for Dr Philippe Klein — but one he doesn’t regret. Not even after the virus claimed the lives of the Wuhan doctor who first raised the alarm in December, and the director of a major hospital in the city.

Today, Klein is at the forefront of the battle against the virus. The 55-year-old has obtained permission from the government to “move freely” to visit patients in their homes, and handles cases at the international clinic of Union Hospital, one of the largest in the city.

“My patients have healed just as over 97 per cent of infected patients heal,” Klein, who manages the clinic, told The Indian Express in an email interview. “The world needs to know the courage of Wuhan and China in this historic crisis,” he says.

The WHO has confirmed 2,121 deaths and over 75,000 cases in China, and the country is still under high risk. But despite a lockdown, Wuhan’s residents remain “brave, calm,

disciplined and united”, and “doing everything possible to protect and entertain their parents and children”.

“My duty is to protect my patients and after telling my staff to stay at home, I put this protective gear (overalls, gloves, masks and goggles) before going to the patient’s home and then leave them in a sealed plastic bag. I wash my hands very often,” says Klein.

“The crisis in Wuhan is like this huge sociological and medical laboratory from which we can draw lessons of incredible courage, intelligence and solidarity. There is a need to understand the sacrifices made by residents of Wuhan and China to protect the rest of the world. These lessons will protect all humanity from future health crises,” he says. Klein’s patients are mostly expats, including Indians working for a French auto company.

“The clinic welcomes foreigners and mainly the French community, which is important in Wuhan. I practice general medicine consultations and provide support VIP service to the best Chinese specialists. During this crisis, my job was to work towards the safety of the European community while awaiting evacuation and also to provide medical and psychological support for all those who remained in Wuhan,” he says.

The initial days of the outbreak were particularly tough for Klein and his Chinese team. He recalls that they were under immense pressure while psychologically preparing for a rapid human-to-human transmission.

“It was a special time of the year as the Chinese look forward to the new year celebrations, and this intermingling would have rapidly promoted the epidemic. At our clinic, around January 16, the anxiety was palpable when a patient with pneumonia was detected with bird flu (avian influenza). I immediately shut the clinic and visited patients at home to prevent them from contracting any virus in the clinic,” he says.

The death of Dr Liu Zhiming, director of Wuchang hospital, was a shock. And the construction of two hospitals in Wuhan in record time a “technical and human achievement”.

Looking ahead, the doctor says a clinical trial is underway on severely affected patients in Wuhan using an antiviral drug that had been used against the Ebola virus. “The drug is showing positive results,” he says.

Klein, a father of four, has been based in Wuhan for the last six years. After the outbreak, he sent his wife and 12-year-old son, who were with him, back home to Metz in France. As for his own future, the doctor plans to join his family only after the situation returns to normal in Wuhan.

“I sent my wife and son on the second plane back to France (in January). I also recommended my patients (the foreign community in general) to be evacuated to avoid the contamination as I knew the city’s health system would deteriorate because of the mobilisation of 100 per cent medical forces in the battle against this new virus,” he says.

There’s one regret, though — there’s no shortage of food but it’s a challenge, he says, to find fruits and vegetables.

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