The World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners have issued an urgent call for action to better protect health and care workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other health issues.
The organisations stated on Thursday, Oct. 21, that they were concerned that health and care workers were experiencing heavy workloads, working long hours, being exposed to human suffering and death.
Levels of anxiety, fatigue, stigmatisation, physical and psychological violence, have all increased significantly, they added.
A new WHO working paper estimated that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between Jan. 2020 and May 2021, approaching a medium of 115, 500 deaths.
According to the organisations, the estimations are derived from the 3.45 million COVID-19 related deaths reported to WHO as of May 2021; a number by itself considered to be much lower than the real death toll (60 per cent or more than what is reported to WHO).
Catherine Duggan, Chief Executive Officer of the International Pharmaceutical Federation and one of several members of the World Health Professions Alliance said sustainable investments in the health workforce should be prioritised for health workers during this pandemic.
“This WHO working paper provides a stark number to stimulate greater action; we cannot afford to lose more health and care workers. Our world will not recover from the pandemic without long-term sustainable investments.”
In a Joint Statement, WHO and partners are calling on all member state governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health and deaths among health and care workers.
The statement also urges political leaders and policy makers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy and investment decisions that ensure the protection of health and care workers.
It highlighted the opportunity to align this with a forthcoming global health and care worker compact and the International Labour Organisation’s call for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
Jim Campbell, Director of the WHO Health Workforce Department said WHO have a moral obligation to protect all health and care workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. “This must include access to vaccines.”
The partners called leaders and policy makers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritised in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Finally, available data from 119 countries suggest that by Sept. 2021, two in five health and care workers were fully vaccinated on average, with considerable difference across regions and economic groupings.
Less than one in 10 have been fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions, while 22 mostly high-income countries reported that above 80 per cent of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated. A few large high-income countries have not yet reported data to WHO.
“Beyond vaccines, economic recovery and all new investments in emergency preparedness and response must prioritize the education and employment of health and care workers, linking to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection,” Jim added.
WHO is currently leading efforts to develop a global health and care worker compact, based on existing legal instruments, conventions and resolutions.
The compact aims to provide member states, stakeholders and institutions with comprehensive guidance on their existing obligations to protect health and care workers, safeguard their rights, and to promote and ensure decent work, free from gender, racial and all other forms of discrimination. The guidance will be presented to the 75th World Health Assembly in May 2022.
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