BMJ Global Health Article: “Health workers are essential for improved global health—but the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating them. Worse still, we don’t know the true toll the virus is taking on healthcare workers. In Africa, where the healthcare workforce of many countries was already desperately thin, the WHO counted nearly 42 000 sickened clinicians as of 9 September 2020, but the total number of infected surely outstrips that. And the pandemic is still unfolding: ongoing community transmission of the virus in many countries in Africa means far more casualties yet to come.
When health workers are at risk, so are their patients. In recent epidemics, health workers have unwittingly infected patients and colleagues. Of even greater concern, when the population perceives health facilities as unsafe, they delay or forgo needed care, leading to preventable deaths from other causes. Disruptions caused by the pandemic could result in millions of preventable deaths.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Health workers are endangered when they do not receive training on infection prevention and control, and when the places they work run short of PPE and testing kits, run delays in returning test results or lack basic necessities such as running water.
WHO and its partners have worked hard to improve procurement mechanisms for much-needed medical supplies. Further, WHO is advocating for the mobilisation of resources to secure PPE supplies for countries and is conducting training of healthcare workers in infection prevention and control.
Many African countries have struggled to secure PPE for their health workers, partly because there are shortages of PPE on the international market. However, we have also become aware of instances of corruption and misuse of funds including for contracts for the procurement of PPE. Corruption, particularly in procurement of supplies that are required to protect life, is unacceptable.
This isn’t the first epidemic to strike the healthcare workforce, and it won’t be the last; but we must learn from our past failures and ensure a safer future. COVID-19 presents yet another opportunity—and urgent requirement—to strengthen protection of health workforce.”