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WHO calls for action to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19

by Haruna Gimba

By Asmau Ahmad

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners issued an urgent call for concrete action to better protect healthcare workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other health issues.

Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, made the call on Thursday during COVID-19 virtual news conference, with focus on healthcare workers and vaccine equity.

Ghebreyesus said WHO and partners were concerned that large numbers of healthcare workers had died from COVID-19, and an increasing proportion of the workforce were suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety and fatigue.

He urged member state governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health and deaths among healthcare workers.

He said “we have been calling for systematic standardised data collection for over a year and half.

“We know that many nurses have become infected and many have died. They work long hours, work without breaks, and they have been called to do work without protective equipment or without support.

“WHO and partners advocate for inclusion of disaggregation by age, gender and occupation as a standard procedure, to enable decision makers and scientists to identify and implement mitigation measures that will further reduce the risk of infections and ill-health.”

He urged political leaders and policy makers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy and investment decisions that ensure the protection of healthcare workers.

He called on leaders and policy makers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that healthcare workers were prioritised in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Jim Campbell, Director of the WHO Health Workforce Department, said “we have a moral obligation to protect healthcare workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. “This must include access to vaccines.”

Catherine Duggan, Chief Executive Officer of the International Pharmaceutical Federation, said “we cannot afford to lose more healthcare workers from the pandemic; we need long-term, sustainable investments in the health workforce.”

Duggan said WHO was currently leading efforts to develop a global healthcare worker compact, based on existing legal instruments, conventions and resolutions.

According to him, the compact aims to provide member states, stakeholders and institutions with comprehensive guidance on existing obligations to protect healthcare workers and safeguard their rights.

He said the compact would also 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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