Amid concerns about the rise in Covid-19 cases in South Africa, healthcare workers are feeling the pressure of working longer hours under uncertain conditions. However, a support network for health care workers has been established to help them cope with increasingly stressful, and often traumatic, conditions. 

With over 500 volunteers, the Healthcare Workers Care Network (HWCN) is spearheaded by partners within the medical and psychological fraternity.  

Support is critical 

Speaking to Health-e News, a doctor working at a Cape Town hospital shared his experience of working at a hospital where four of his colleagues have died from Covid-19. 

“Nothing in medical school or training truly prepares one for what we are currently facing. It comes at a great cost to ones mental and physical health. However, nothing will ever compare to the suffering that we get to see daily, and its scary to think that things may get worse than this,” says the doctor. 

This experience is an all too common, and also part of the reason why healthcare workers across the private and public sector will receive free support, pro bono therapy, resources, training and psycho-education. Nurses, community healthcare workers, field workers, hospital or clinical personnel such as laundry staff and porters are also eligible for these mental health resources and support. 

“These are dedicated people who have committed to seeing all of us through the Covid-19 crisis. It’s critically important right now to be supportive as possible of doctors, nurses, healthcare support staff, and allied medical personnel, says Dr Caroline Lee, convener of the South African Society of Anaesthesia Support Group (SASA). 

‘Anticipatory anxiety’ 

Zamo Mbele, clinical psychologist and South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) board member says that healthcare workers are going to go through various emotions as they serve at the healthcare facilities. 

“Before they are even health workers, they are people – so they are also going to be very anxious, very terrified and very worried about their own health and the health of those around them. And then they’re going to be experiencing the anxieties of being healthcare workers. How they [potentially] deal with that pressure then [forms] from something that we call anticipatory anxiety, he says. 

Mbele says that learning from other countries which have already gone through some of the stages of Covid-19 that we are currently experiencing, is helpful. 

“What we can learn from other countries is where to from here? Other countries are at season four, five and six, and we know that if things are not managed properly now – including a great deal of self-care – there can be a huge amount of burnout and of distress which is unmanageable. 

Partners in the network include South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), South African Medical Association (SAMA), Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA), SASA and SADAG. 

Healthcare workers can submit a form to the HWCN here, or call SADAG on 0800 323 323 or 0800 567 567. – Health-e News