Worldwide, as millions of people stay at home to minimise transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, health-care workers prepare to do the exact opposite. They will go to clinics and hospitals, putting themselves at high risk from COVID-2019. Figures from China’s National Health Commission show that more than 3300 health-care workers have been infected as of early March and, according to local media, by the end of February at least 22 had died. In Italy
, 20% of responding health-care workers were infected, and some have died. Reports from medical staff describe physical and mental exhaustion, the torment of difficult triage decisions, and the pain of losing patients and colleagues, all in addition to the infection risk.
As the pandemic accelerates, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers is a key concern. Medical staff are prioritised in many countries, but PPE shortages have been described in the most affected facilities. Some medical staff are waiting for equipment while already seeing patients who may be infected or are supplied with equipment that might not meet requirements. Alongside concerns for their personal safety, health-care workers are anxious about passing the infection to their families. Health-care workers who care for elderly parents or young children will be drastically affected by school closures, social distancing policies, and disruption in the availability of food and other essentials.
Health-care systems globally could be operating at more than maximum capacity for many months. But health-care workers, unlike ventilators or wards, cannot be urgently manufactured or run at 100% occupancy for long periods. It is vital that governments see workers not simply as pawns to be deployed, but as human individuals. In the global response, the safety of health-care workers must be ensured. Adequate provision of PPE is just the first step; other practical measures must be considered, including cancelling non-essential events to prioritise resources; provision of food, rest, and family support; and psychological support. Presently, health-care workers are every country’s most valuable resource.
Font: The Lancet