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Health workers getting infected with COVID-19 outside hospitals – WHO

FILE PHOTO: Health workers put on protective gear before attending to virus patients

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to raise globally, so does the number of health workers who have been exposed to the disease with some eventually succumbing to it.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), majority of the nurses have been infected outside hospitals by people they know rather than in the hospitals where they work and are exposed to the disease.

Information released by WHO shows that in April, 23,000 health care workers were infected with COVID-19 with 100 succumbing to the disease. Figures from the International Council of Nurses put the figures of affected nurses to 90,000 infected nurses and 260 deaths recorded globally since outbreak of the disease was declared in January 2020.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 Technical Lead at WHO says that there’s an alarming number of health workers who have been infected by the disease. She says that preliminary ongoing research being carried out by WHO shows that majority of health workers picked the disease outside health care centers.

WHO findings also show that some health care workers are being affected within hospital settings. Dr Kerkhove attributes hospital infections to long working hours for health care workers.

Findings also show that some health care workers are being infected because they are not practicing proper hand hygiene. According to WHO, some health care workers are not using hand hygiene like using gloves, water and soap plus alcohol based hand sanitizers to keep their hands cleans.

Dr Micheal Ryan, the executive director of emergency services at WHO says that countries need to ensure that all health workers not just those working on COVID-19 wards to be protected to avoid infections.

WHO guidelines call for governments to provide enough personal protective equipment – PPE like gloves, googles, medical mask and medical gowns to health care workers who are likely to come into contact with persons infected with the disease.

However, due to global shortages of PPE, many health workers are being forced to work in health centers without PPE. According to Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary at the health ministry says that the country only has 10 percent of the required PPE. As a result, distribution of PPE is prioritized for health workers who are working in designated COVID-19 treatment centers.

To avoid infection of health care workers from the community, hospitals like Mulago National Referral Hospital have resorted to accommodating health workers in hospital wings.

Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the executive director of Mulago Hospital in an earlier interview told Uganda Radio Netowork (URN) that they need to control the environment. “We do not know where these people live. While in the hospital we protect them from infections, outside we cannot guarantee their safety. Making them sleep here is the easier option,” said Dr Byarugaba.

To date Uganda has recorded 126 cases of COVID-19. None of the infected cases was a health care worker.

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