The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa. More than 10,000 health workers in 40 African countries have been infected with COVID-19 so far.
This was disclosed by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, during a virtual press conference on July 23, 2020, organised by APO Group. She was joined by several high ranking health professionals across the continent including Dr Jemima A. Dennis-Antwi, International Maternal Health & Midwifery Specialist.
Dr. Moeti said “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.”
There are currently more than 750,000 cases of COVID-19, with over 15,000 deaths. Some countries are approaching a critical number of infections that can place stress on health systems. South Africa is now among the worst-hit countries in the world.
So far, about 10% 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 5% of cases in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and in four of these, health workers make up more than 10% of all infections.
In many African countries, infection prevention and control measures aimed at preventing infections in health facilities are still not fully implemented. According to WHO, when it assessed clinics and hospitals across the continent for these measures, only 16% of the nearly 30,000 facilities surveyed had assessment scores above 75%. Many health centres were found to lack the infrastructure necessary to implement key infection prevention measures, or to prevent overcrowding. Only 7.8% (2213) had isolation capacities and just a third had the capacity to triage patients.
“One infection among health workers is one too many,” Dr Moeti said.
“Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.”
WHO has since stated that it is also helping to fill gaps in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Currently, 41 million items of personal protective equipment are ready to ship from China to cover the needs of 47 African countries. Shipments for an initial set of 23 African countries are planned to start during this weekend.”