World Health Organisation (WHO) says no fewer than 10,000 health workers in the 40 countries battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Africa are infected.
The organisation’s Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, stated this in a statement posted on its website on Friday.
The UN health agency, which warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa, added that “this is a huge challenge medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak face.
“More than 10,000 health workers in the 40 countries which have reported on such infections have been infected with COVID-19 so far.
“This comes as COVID-19 cases in Africa appear to be gathering pace. There are now more than 750,000 cases, with over 15,000 deaths.
“Some countries are approaching a critical number of infections that can place stress on health systems and South Africa is now among the worst-hit countries in the world.”
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying: “the growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent.
“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this than the rising number of health worker infections.”
According to the statement, about 10 per cent of all cases globally are among health workers, though there is a wide range between individual countries.
In Africa, information on health worker infections is still limited, but preliminary data finds that they make up more than five per cent of cases in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
“In four of these, health workers make up more than 10 per cent of all infections.
“Inadequate access to personal Protective Equipment or weak infection prevention and control measures raise the risk of health worker infection.
“Surging global demand for protective equipment, as well as global restrictions on travel have triggered supply shortages.’’
In addition, it the statement noted, health workers could also be exposed to patients who do not show signs of the disease and were in the health facilities for a range of other services.
“Risks may also arise when health personnel are repurposed for COVID-19 response without adequate briefing, or because of heavy workloads which result in fatigue, burnout and possibly not fully applying the standard operating procedures.
“In many African countries, control measures aimed at preventing infections in health facilities are still not fully implemented.
“When WHO assessed clinics and hospitals across the continent for these measures, only 16 per cent of the nearly 30,000 facilities surveyed had assessment scores above 75 per cent.
“Many health centres were found to lack the infrastructure necessary to implement key infection prevention measures, or to prevent overcrowding.
“Only 7.8 per cent (2,213) had isolation capacities and just a third had the capacity to triage patients.’’
The statement further quoted Moeti as saying “infection among health workers is one too many.
“Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19.
She said “we must make sure that they have PPE, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.
“WHO had been working with health ministries to reduce infections since the outbreak begun.
“The Organisation has trained more than 50,000 health workers in Africa in infection prevention and control, with plans to train 200, 000 more.
“It plans to provide guidance documents and guidelines on best care practices and the most up-to-date treatment regime for health workers.
“WHO has been helping to fill gaps in the supply of PPE. Currently, 41 million PPE are ready from China to cover the needs of 47 African countries.
“Shipment for an initial set of 23 African countries are planned to start this weekend.’’
She explained that as a result of efforts by WHO and partners, some African countries managed to reduce health worker infections considerably.
“For example, two months ago, over 16 per cent of COVID-19 infections in Sierra Leone were among health workers.
“The figure has now dropped to nine per cent. Cote d’Ivoire has reduced the proportion of infection among health workers from 6.1 per cent to 1.4 per cent.
“Scaling up prevention and control measures can further reduce infections among health workers.”