The World Health Organization has warned of the threat posed by Covid-19 to health workers across Africa. Statistics have indicated that more than 10,000 health workers in 40 countries reporting Covid-19 cases in Africa have been infected. Africa has continued to experience the spike in infection with 750,000 active cases, and over 15,000 deaths reported.
Speaking to media, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said, “The growth we see in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent.” He added that “This has genuine consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this than the rising number of health worker infections.”
So far, about 10% of all cases globally are among health workers, though there is a wide range between individual countries. In Africa, information on health workers infections is still limited. Still, preliminary data indicate that they make up to more than 5% of cases in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and in four of these, health workers make up more than 10% of all infections.
Health Workers are at risk of contracting the virus due to inadequate access to personal protective equipment and weak infection prevention and control. Also, the high demand for protective equipment and restrictions of movement in the around the world has contributed to Health Workers woos.
Health workers can also be exposed to patients who do not show signs of the disease and are in the health facilities for a range of other services. Risks may also arise when health personnel are repurposed for COVID-19 response without adequate briefing, or because of heavy workloads which result in fatigue, burnout and possibly not fully applying the standard operating procedures.
“One infection among health workers is one too many,” said Dr Moeti. “Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.”
WHO has been working closely with health ministries to reduce health workers infections since the outbreak began. Also, the organization has trained more than 50 000 health workers in Africa in infection prevention and control, with plans to train over 200 000 more, as well as to provide guidance documents and guidelines on best care practices and the most current treatment regimes.
WHO is also helping to fill gaps in the supply of personal protective equipment. Currently, 41 million items of personal protective equipment are ready to ship from China to cover the needs of 47 African countries. Shipment for an initial set of 23 African countries is planned to start over the weekend.
As a result of concerted efforts by WHO and partners, some African countries like Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire have managed to reduce health workers infections considerably.