Bruising lessons for health workers caught in global Covid-19 pandemic

20 November 2020 - 06:00
Aisha Milad Belhassna, a nurse wearing a protective suit, cares for patient infected with Covid-19 at a quarantine centre, in Misrata, Libya. File photo.
Aisha Milad Belhassna, a nurse wearing a protective suit, cares for patient infected with Covid-19 at a quarantine centre, in Misrata, Libya. File photo.
Image: REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili

Health workers have dealt with multiple blows since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic which exposed major loopholes in many health systems across the globe.

Overcrowding in health facilities, long hours, lack of personal protective equipment and getting infected with Covid-19 are some of the most common issues they grappled with.

More than 7,000 health workers have succumbed to the virus, according to an analysis by Amnesty International.

Many of the lessons learnt from the pandemic were aired at a webinar, Covid-19 and noncommunicable diseases: a health care workforce perspective, hosted by the NCD alliance on Thursday.

Elizabeth Iro, chief nursing officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in  Switzerland, said the pandemic had lifted the veil on a global shortage of nurses and poor working conditions.

“If governments and employers are sincere about overcoming this crisis and future pandemics [they] must invest in massive acceleration of quality nursing education to meet global need, increasing demand, changing technology and changing models of integrated health and social care,” she said.

“Governments must invest or create six million nursing jobs by 2030, investments must be made in nursing leadership ... to develop new models of care, strengthen advanced practice roles, policy decision making to maximise efficiency and effectiveness of health and social care systems,” said Iro.

In some countries, including India, poor working condition prevail as it deals with a resurgence of the virus.

Dr Apoorva Gomber, speaking as a doctor living with type-1 diabetes in India, said the pandemic had affected everyone within the health sector, from ushers to nurses and doctors.

“Each and every person working in the health system has been profoundly affected by Covid-19. From the initial months way back from March, there was confusion, chaos and increased workloads which was putting so much pressure on not just the minds of the patients who were getting diagnosed with Covid, but also health workers,” she said.   

“I can just mention my personal experience of working in the wards where there was no PPE or masks. We were struggling to figure out what to do. There was such chaos in the health-care delivery system,” she added.

Though India remains in the top five in terms of infections, Gomber said that recent Diwali activities had made matters worse.

“Today as I speak in India Covid-19 is on the rise, especially post Diwali. There has been a 50% surge in the past 24 hours, with the total infections nearing nine million,” she said.

Gomber, like other panellists, said there was a shortage of health-care workers in India.

“To handle the overloading of hospitals, most final-year students were deployed without having any ward experience ... Many of our doctors in India had to be evicted from their homes because they were super spreaders,” she said.  

Dr Crystal Oldman, CEO of The Queen's Nursing Institute in the UK, expressed similar sentiments but said the full affect of the pandemic was not yet known.

“The long-term affect on the health of children and families including physical, mental and emotional health will be unknown for some time, but we do know that domestic violence rose by 25% since March. We also know that our nurses are recording huge concerns about the lack of physical exercise in all parts of our populations,” said Oldman.  

She revealed that district nurses had seen an increase in people with advanced stages of cancer despite a decrease observed over the past 10 years.

“Nurses are in a perfect position to see the affect of Covid-19 on the populations' health and improve the health of our populations. The solution is right on our nose: we need greater investment in our nurses, we need greater investment in their education and professional development to meet the needs of our population,” she added.

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