Pandemic taking heavy toll on health workers worldwide, report shows

Healthcare workers at Tygerberg Hospital marked International Nurses' Day by taking to the streets to express their grievances about the conditions under which they work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Healthcare workers at Tygerberg Hospital marked International Nurses' Day by taking to the streets to express their grievances about the conditions under which they work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Esa Alexander

This week Amnesty International released a report showing the heavy toll the pandemic was taking on health workers around the world.

The report, “Exposed, Silenced, Attacked: Failures to Protect Health and Essential Workers during the Covid-19 Pandemic”, reveals that many more than 3,000 health workers have lost their lives due to Covid-19 so far. This number includes health workers in SA.

The data was collected between January and June.

Commenting on the report, Amnesty International said governments should be held accountable for the deaths of health and essential workers whom they had failed to protect from Covid-19.

“Amnesty International documented cases where health workers who raise safety concerns in the context of the Covid-19 response have faced retaliation, ranging from arrest and detention to threats and dismissal,” the organisation said.

Among the key findings from the report are that:

  • Health workers reported serious shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in nearly all of the 63 countries and territories surveyed by Amnesty International; 
  • In at least 31 of the countries, researchers recorded reports of strikes, threatened strikes, or protests by health and essential workers as a result of unsafe working conditions. In many countries, such actions were met with reprisals from authorities; 
  • Amnesty International has documented how some health and essential workers are being unfairly paid or in some cases not paid at all; and 
  • There were several cases where health and essential workers experienced stigma and violence because of their jobs.  

A health worker in SA told Amnesty International researchers there were a raft of challenges, not least fatigue.  

“The big issue for me is how tired we all are rushing from one patient to the next, which results in many of us accidentally touching our faces and exposing ourselves to the virus,” the health worker said.

“We also sweat a lot and the visor steams up. I have been off work with Covid-19 and I am a locum doctor, which means I am only paid when I work, so I’m feeling even more stressed than before.”

Mienke Steytler, media officer at Amnesty International SA, called on the government to ensure that all health and essential workers were properly protected at all times.

“They need to make sure that all hospitals and clinics have enough PPE and are taking the necessary precautions. If health and essential workers are not protected, neither are we. Everyone’s right to health depends on it,” she said.


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