“Health care workers have a heightened risk of contracting the virus. They also have concerns about taking the virus home. They suffer psychological pressures from working around the clock,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) regional director in Africa.
Sharp rise in numbers
The challenges faced by health workers have been exacerbated by the increasing numbers of positive Covid-19 cases amongst them. More than 10 000 health care workers in 40 countries that have reported cases, have been infected with the virus. Of those, South African health workers make up two thirds of the total number of infections in the continent.
In Gauteng alone, 3 246 public servants including health workers have tested positive for Covid-19 since March, according to Gauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku.
“In the WHO African Region, which is mainly sub-Saharan Africa, we have had more than 115 000 cases in the past week, and 93% of these cases occurred in 10 countries, including over 74% (so almost three quarters) coming from South Africa. Cases have also increased in southern African countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.”
Why is this happening?
The shortage of PPE [personal protective equipment] has been identified as one of the reasons why health workers remain vulnerable to Covid-19. “One of the biggest challenges in protecting health workers has been the global shortage of PPE, which has severely affected countries on the continent,” says Moeti.
Supplies of over two million PPE have already been shipped to African countries by the United Nations (UN) Global Supply. A further 41 million worth of PPE will be distributed. “We are committed in WHO, with the support of international partners, to continue helping countries to replenish these essential supplies.”
With the easing of restrictions, the continent has seen a rise in the number of cases. There are almost 770 000 reported cases and more than 16 000 deaths at the time of publishing this article.
Speaking about the experiences of health workers in Ghana and around the continent, international maternal health and midwifery specialist, Dr Jemima A Dennis-Antwi says that medical staff have refused to attend patients due to lack of resources.
“Nurses and midwives have the majority of infectivity. Over 410 have been affected in Ghana while on duty and this is because we are designated to serve patients 24/7. The increasing numbers of infectivity amongst health professionals, coupled with limited or lack of consistent supply of resources, results in refusal to attend patients.”
That has an impact, she says. “These have serious implications for quality care, especially reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent care. There is the need for urgent action to keep our health professionals alive to provide the care they are trying to provide.”
Health workers need to protect themselves by constantly getting educated about the virus while also adhering to prevention protocols. They also need to ensure that they get adequate nutrition support to boost their immune systems.
“Governments need to look at the quality improvement structures, there is the need for infrastructure development that will enable us to have access to good quality facilities to limit the infections. You have doctors and nurses sitting in the same room with Covid-19 patients because they don’t have anywhere to sit, so you are exposed to the virus 24/7. These are some of the challenges we currently have,” adds Dennis-Antwi. – Health-e News