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To save the lives of patients, health workers must be protected

ByMicheal Johnson

Sep 17, 2020

“No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless keep your healthcare workers safe first“, Said this Thursday the general director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

At a press conference on the occasion of World Patient Safety Day, Dr. Tedros noted that one in seven cases of COVID-19 corresponds to a health worker and that in some nations the disease affects one in three, so he asked that they be provided with adequate protective equipment to prevent them from becoming infected and infecting their patients and families.

COVID-19 not only increases the risk of contagion and disease among health workers and their families, but rather exposes them to “high levels of stress, extreme fatigue, stigma, discrimination and even violence,” Tedros said.

A very high risk of contagion

Data from many countries indicate that the rate of COVID-19 infection in healthcare personnel is much higher than in the general population.

Those employees represent less than 3% of the population in most countries and less than 2% in almost all low- and middle-income nations. However; about 14% of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO are from health workers, with a proportion that reaches up to 35% in some countries.

Also, thousands of health workers have died because of the coronavirus.

The WHO clarified, despite the figures, that the quality of the data does not allow to determine whether infected health workers were infected at the workplace or in your community.

© UNICEF / Samir Karahoda

A baby receives a vaccine in Kosovo during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moral and legal responsibility

The WHO recalled that governments have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure the health, safety and well-being of your staff sanitary.

The professionals of the health deserve safe working conditions, training, respect and fair remuneration, the agency stressed.

In this context, he urged governments and actors that operate health services at the local level to implement five measures To improve the protection of those employees:

  1. Establish a connection between health worker safety and patient-related policies.
  2. Develop e implement national programs for the occupational health and safety of healthcare personnel.
  3. Protect health employees from violence in the workplace.
  4. Improve mental health and the psychological well-being of those workers.
  5. Safeguard health personnel of physical and biological hazards.

WHO also urged leaders in the field of health care to invest in the sector over the next year by setting goals like preventing injuries, reducing work-related stress and burnout, improve the use of personal protective equipment, promote zero tolerance for violence against healthcare personnel, and document and evaluate serious incidents related to the safety of healthcare workers.

High stress levels

Regardless of the physical risks, the pandemic subjects medical personnel to very high levels of stress, with long hours in intense work environments and with the constant fear of getting sick, in addition to suffering stigmatization and, at times, separation from their families.

Before the pandemic, these professionals already faced a higher risk of suicide worldwide, the WHO stressed and added that a recent study revealed that during the global emergency 25% reported depression and anxiety and that a third suffered from insomnia.

The Organization highlighted an “alarming increase” in reports of verbal harassment, discrimination and violence physics against health workers in the context of the pandemic. The assaults include armed robberies, threats, denial of services, evictions from their homes, stigma, and cyber attacks.

World Patient Safety Day

Last year, the World Health Organization established September 17 as World Patient Safety Day with the intention of highlighting the need to ensure that safety to people while receiving medical treatment.

The day asks world solidarity and orchestrated action by all countries and actors in the health sector to improve patient safety. The Day also seeks to bring together patients, families, caregivers, communities, health workers, health leaders and policy makers to make a commitment to improve patient safety.

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