Health Workers And COVID-19

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Government should address the worries of health workers. They are important safeguards against the deadly viral disease

Despite the high risks associated with being on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in the country, health workers have not been adequately motivated. Their families are at risk. They work without the essential personal protective equipment (PPE). Majority are not insured. Even more worrying, over 40 health workers have tested positive to COVID-19, according to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

Healthcare workers have been raising the alarm that they are being exposed to the infection due to lack of PPE. In addition, many of them are not adequately trained on precautions to take while interfacing with patients coming into their hospitals at this period. We hope the authorities will look into all these issues and offer comprehensive measures that go beyond the usual tokenism.

Globally, no fewer than 30, 000 health workers have been infected by the virus through exposure to patients, while close to a thousand have lost their lives to the pandemic. Italy and Spain have reported the infection of almost 11, 000 health workers with at least 500 of them said to have died after succumbing to symptoms of the disease. In the United States also, infection and death rates among health workers treating COVID-19 patients are increasing by the day. If medical personnel in countries where they use PPE, including garments, helmets and goggles are still exposed to this disease, one can only imagine what happens within our environment.

The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) president, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, has canvassed that government should make available enough PPE for their members, review their hazard allowance and provide life insurance for them. In arguing that health workers across Nigeria should be provided with PPE, Sokomba queries why emphasis is placed only on COVID-19 treatment centres without much attention to those who work at referral centres even when patients don’t just find themselves in the treatment centres. Patients, according to him, “first of all go to the referral hospitals where they are seen and evaluated. Once they are found to be positive, they are transferred to the treatment and isolated centres. So, those people that do the initial evaluation are exposed and that is what happened to health workers at hospitals in Ilorin, Benin and Lagos.”

Although the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi recently said one complete PPE costs N70, 000 and can only be worn once to an isolation ward, governments, including those in the states, must invest in this very essential commodity so that frontline workers are adequately protected. Abayomi had said: “Sometimes, a healthcare worker would need to enter an isolation ward four times in a day. Each time he or she enters, the personal protective equipment used would no longer be used; which means about N280,000 has been used in a single day by only one health worker.”

While we understand the expensive nature of PPE, no cost can be put on the lives of our health workers. Failure to invest in their protection would mean gambling with their lives and that of their family members. If they withdraw their services, we will not get the needed workforce to treat the growing spread of the virus in Nigeria. That will be dangerous for our country. In addition to the investment in PPE, workers on the frontline must be identified and motivated. They include cleaners of isolation wards, ambulance drivers, laboratory scientist taking samples, nurses and other support staff.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), and other health professionals should ensure the Memorandum of Understanding between it and the federal government for various allowances and incentives is binding, in addition to the life insurance cover by the Nigerian Insurance Industry for the frontline workers on Covid-19 pandemic. The states must be brought in to collaborate and strengthen a national approach. Other African countries, including Ghana, have since concluded on this important scheme.

We must understand that how we treat the health workers, especially at this most crucial period, will either make or mar the efforts towards tackling the challenge of COVID-19 in Nigeria. We should aim to win the war.