No fewer than 41,000 health workers across Africa have been infected with the novel COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti made this known in a press statement to commemorate the World Patient Safety Day.
She said the figure accounts for 3.8 per cent of all reported COVID-19 cases in the region.
“In the WHO African region, more than 41,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19, accounting for 3.8% of all reported cases.
“Some countries, like Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire have made progress in reducing the proportion of health worker infections. Others such as Eritrea, Rwanda and Seychelles have not recorded a single case of COVID-19 among health workers,” she said.
The World Patient Safety Day is marked annually on September 17 to increase public awareness and engagement, enhance global understanding and spur global solidarity and action to promote patient safety.
This year’s theme, ‘Health Worker Safety: A priority for patient safety’, is a strong reminder of the vital role health workers play in relieving sufferings of patients and saving lives.
Health workers at risk
Ms Moeti noted that frontline health workers are at greater risk of infection because of the care they provide to patients.
She said the international agency has trained 50,000 health workers in the African region in infection prevention and control, with plans to train over 200,000 more.
“Around 31 million items of personal protective equipment have been shipped to member states and guidance documents on best care practices are in-development, to support the creation of enabling environments for safe health workers and safe patients,” she said.
The WHO director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus earlier said that COVID-19 has exposed health workers and their families to unprecedented levels of risk.
He said data from many countries across WHO regions indicates that COVID-19 infections among health workers are far greater than those in the general population.
He noted that although health workers represent less than three per cent of the population in the large majority of countries and less than two per cent in almost all low and middle-income countries, around 14 per cent of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO are among health workers.
“In some countries, the proportion can be as high as 35 percent. Thousands of health workers infected with COVID-19 have lost their lives worldwide,” he said.
Healthcare workers are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus as they are usually the first responders to patients.
Universal health coverage
Ms Moeti said patient safety is an essential component in strengthening health systems to achieve universal health coverage.
This, she said, requires collaboration and open communication between multidisciplinary health-care teams, patients and patients’ organizations, professional associations and other stakeholders.
She reiterated that action is needed to understand the magnitude of patient harm.
The regional director noted that patients and their families must be enabled to take preventive measures to reduce risks to all individuals, including people with disabilities and older people.
Ms Moeti urged everyone to work together to protect health workers, so they can protect patients, in supportive, enabling environments for the delivery of quality health care.