HEALTH WORKERS AND COVID-19

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The relevant authorities should engage local manufacturers to scale up production of equipment

The recent alarm by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) that about 300 doctors and other health workers in the country have been diagnosed with COVID-19 should worry the authorities. More troubling is that these health professionals were infected while caring for patients who had contracted the highly contagious disease. This, according to the NMA, is chiefly because the workers lacked the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to guard them from being infected when interfacing with patients.

Interestingly, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire has put the blame elsewhere. He said recently that the high rate of infection among health workers was due to lack of adequate knowledge by the frontline personnel on how to protect themselves when in contact with patients. He argued that majority of infected workers were from private health facilities, stressing that only few doctors, nurses and other workers from the various government-owned health facilities and isolation centres have had such problem because they have been trained on how to handle COVID-19 patients, even during emergencies.
We agree with both the NMA and the Federal Ministry of Health that the high COVID-19 incidence among frontline workers is caused by a combination of these two factors: Lack of PPE and poor training of many of the health workers at the frontline of fighting the pandemic in the country. But this is a serious challenge that must be addressed because of its implications. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for every COVID-19 frontline worker infected with the virus, hundreds of patients in dire need of their expertise would get less care than originally expected, adding that the rate of infection was slowing down the battle against the virus across the globe.

For Nigeria, which is one of the countries with the least amount of health workers per population, it is high time the factors responsible for the high exposure of frontline personnel were addressed. As things stand, the country is in short supply of workforce, and the infection rate has the capacity to further deplete the lean human resources in the sector thereby hampering the fight against the rapidly spreading disease. No doubt, PPEs are in short supply in Nigeria, as it is the case all over the world. But many countries are looking inwards. Authorities in the health sector should engage local manufacturers as well as encourage those who are already producing the medical supply in small quantity to scale up as the country is fast running out of time with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases recorded daily.

Recently, some local manufacturers in Lagos and Aba said they have the capacity to produce all the PPEs needed by health workers to fight the pandemic. The Nigerian Air Force also said it can produce PPEs in large quantity. Government should engage these institutions to see which has the best idea on PPEs as this will help in reducing the high number of infections by the frontline workers.

The minister of health has identified lack of knowledge as one of the major reasons why health workers are contracting the infection. Henceforth, government should ensure that only those trained and approved by it are allowed to interface with COVID-19 patients. It should also ensure workers in general health facilities take precautions when attending to patients, irrespective of the medical condition of such patients. Health workers are the country’s number one army against COVID-19, and government must protect them at all costs.