Healthcare workers, who serve as COVID-19 front-line caregivers, are at an increased risk of contracting the virus.
Statistics show worrisome trends that infection rates and deaths due to COVID-19 among front-line workers are increasing. Mental health issues among health workers, such as depression, burn-out, and substance abuse are on the rise.
Risk of COVID-19 among health workers
Research has shown that the risk of COVID-19 may be linked to the duration of shifts, personal protective equipment, and hand hygiene. Personnel whose work involves close contact with patients, such as dentists, ophthalmologists, and those working in ENT specialties, have also been shown to be at increased risk. Staff working for longer shifts, especially in COVID-19 care and isolation centers are therefore likely to have a higher risk of contracting the infection. Adequate PPEs and facilities for hand hygiene are key in minimizing the COVID-19 risk for care-givers.
How can risk be reduced?
Health professionals need to be supported to conduct their duties without exposing themselves to the virus. This can be achieved through advocating for the following at the workplace:
- Adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training on their proper use
- Proper management of waste produced during the care of patients
- Facilities for hand hygiene, including proper handwashing facilities
- Training on infection prevention and control, and enhancing contact and droplet precautions
PPES at the Workplace
PPEs are the most essential commodities for COVID-19 front line health workers. Adequate PPEs should be provided for health workers taking care of COVID-19 patients, and should include:
- Medical masks
- Eye protection (goggles)
- Facial protection (face shield)
- Long-sleeved gown
- Medical gloves
Important precautions when using PPEs include:
- ● Training and supervision on the proper process for putting on PPE (donning) and removing PPE (doffing)
- ● Hand hygiene practices before putting on and removing PPE
- ● Cleaning and disinfection of work surfaces, and portable items such as mobile phones, pens, stethoscopes, and other diagnostic devices.
Ensuring Care for the Health Workers
The physical and mental health and wellbeing of health workers during the pandemic must be protected at all costs. The front-liners should be tested for Covid-19 routinely at no personal cost to them. Counseling and support for mental health issues should also be available if needed.
Adequate staffing and deployment of the health workers should also be considered reducing long shifts, under-staffing and job-related stress should be minimized.
Treatment, for both physical and mental ailments including specialist care, should be offered by employers, and all health-related costs covered fully. Experts and advocates also need to advocate for health workers to be a priority during the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, once it is available.