A host of health care professionals across Nigeria have used the language of “war” to describe the fight against the coronavirus, which has overwhelmed some hospitals.
Health care workers are the soldiers on the front lines.
The Asokoro General hospital in Abuja has been turned into a full-time isolation centre while patients being treated for other ailments in the facility are pushed to other hospitals in Nigeria’s capital.
More than 400 health workers have tested positive for the virus, says the National Chairman of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), Josiah Biobelemoye.
He disclosed this on Friday in Abuja while briefing journalists about the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the JOHESU state councils.
The over 400 is the figure of JOHESU members who contracted the contagion alone. “It did not include health workers outside the JOHESU family,” Ogbonna Chimela, the national vice chairman of the association later told PREMIUM TIMES on phone Friday afternoon.
JOHESU is a group of other health workers other than doctors. They comprise nurses, pharmacists, cleaners and administrative workers in hospitals.
As of June 2, at least a total of 812 (all) health workers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the health minister, Osagie Ehanire.
“About 417 JOHESU members have tested positive. When you now include medical professionals, the numbers would have reached almost a thousand”, Mr Chimela said.
Despite the increase in infections, health workers would not relent in protecting Nigerians, JOHESU national chairman, Mr Biobelemoye noted.
But, public health officials are not disclosing where these employees work, how they are doing now or how many may have been infected in “hot spots,” or clusters of positive tests.
Nigeria’s infectious disease outfit, NCDC, is not providing details beyond a state-wide total.
Most health experts say revealing more information could jeopardize the privacy of infected employees.
They say more specific numbers for hospitals, or even for entire cities or counties, could allow someone to figure out who got sick, thereby violating the workers’ privacy rights.
Three days ago, authorities in Edo confirmed that over 200 health workers tested positive in the state.
Ordeal of health workers fighting COVID-19
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients have continued to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Although health workers have been advised to use full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before attending to patients, many do not have access to this equipment and as a result, nearly a thousand health workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government had promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Nigerian Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres.
Resident doctors, certified doctors undergoing residency to become consultants had downed tools when they did not receive the hazard pay four months into the pandemic era.
The doctors also protested unpaid salaries and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) among other demands. JOHESU members have also threatened strike over similar demands.
Sharing of PPEs
During Friday’s briefing, the JOHESU president said the ordeal of health workers has called for drastic solutions, hence the decision of the union to take it upon itself to distribute PPEs to its members.
“Since the outbreak of COVID- 19, over 400 members of JOHESU have been infected by coronavirus, we also need to support our own members who are working and sacrificing their lives for the generality of Nigerians,” Mr Biobelemoye stated.
Among PPE to be distributed across 38 state councils of the union include, 50,000 pieces of face masks, 15,200 pieces of sanitisers, 2,000 pieces of disinfectants and 1,200 pieces of hand wash, the official said.
Also speaking during the exercise, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi, said the federal government was appreciative of any donations made by public-spirited Nigerians towards curbing the pandemic.
Mr Mashi, who was represented by the Director Human Resources, Aliya Mohammed, noted that for some unusual reasons, Nigeria has been able to brace up to the challenges better than other advanced countries with technological ingenuity.
“The emergence of COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives and the health system in general, such that even the developed countries have been overwhelmed, talk less of Nigeria.
“The virus has affected the economy drastically, hence the government cannot meet all the challenges that has been thrown up, that is why we welcome such donations by the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria.
“We have many frontline health workers taking up these challenges on behalf of other Nigerians and the federal government is always appreciating these efforts, so we crave your understanding and more support to improve on our health care delivery in the country,” he said.
Earlier, the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Emmanuel Ugboaja, said health workers deserved commendation for being the first set of people to raise awareness on COVID-19 and its preventive measures.