Prioritise health worker, patient safety: WHO

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THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments across the globe, including Zimbabwe, to address persistent threats to the health and safety of patients, the Daily News reports.
This comes as Zimbabwe recently announced a new health restructuring strategy in a bid to resuscitate the country’s health sector which had been bedevilled by striking health workers and lack of medicines and medical equipment.

Speaking on the World Patient Safety Day celebrated yesterday under the theme “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety”, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said the Covid-19 pandemic had reminded the world of the vital role health workers play to relieve suffering and save lives.

“No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe. WHO’s Health Worker Safety Charter is a step towards ensuring that health workers have the safe working conditions, the training, the pay and the respect they deserve,” Ghebreyesus said.

According to the WHO, while health workers represent less than three percent of the population in large countries and less than two percent in almost all low and middle income countries, around 14 percent of coronavirus (Covid-19) cases reported to WHO were among health workers.

In Zimbabwe, more than 300 health workers have tested positive for Covid-19 owing to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The Charter, released today for World Patient Safety Day, calls on governments and those running health services at local levels to take five actions to better protect health workers.

“These include steps to protect health workers from violence, to improve their mental health, to protect them from physical and biological hazards, to advance national programmes for health worker safety, and to connect health worker safety policies to existing patient safety policies.

“Covid-19 has exposed health workers and their families to unprecedented levels of risk. Although not representative, data from many countries across WHO regions indicate that Covid-19 infections among health workers are far greater than those in the general population,” WHO said.

WHO said in addition to physical risks, the pandemic had placed extraordinary levels of psychological stress on health workers exposed to high-demand settings for long hours, living in constant fear of disease exposure while separated from family and facing social stigmatisation.

“Before Covid-19 hit, medical professionals were already at higher risk of suicide in all parts of the world.
“A recent review of healthcare professionals found one in four reported depression and anxiety, and one in three suffered insomnia during Covid-19.

“WHO recently highlighted an alarming rise in reports of verbal harassment, discrimination and physical violence among health workers in the wake of Covid-19,” WHO said.

Meanwhile, Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) secretary-general Arron Musara told the Daily News the government still had a long way to go in ensuring that health workers were protected.

“The World Patient Safety Day comes at a time when health workers’ struggle for protection, be it in terms of personal protective equipment or personal safety in terms of job security and non-interference from third parties, is at an all-time low in the country.

“We have consistently called on the government to avail adequate PPE but that has not been met. As doctors, we are currently not reporting to work due to a number of challenges including poor remuneration.

“We have written to the new leadership but it has not shown that it is willing to engage us so we have resolved that each party will do what it sees fit,” Musara said.

He added that while the government had introduced a new health system and promised to improve remuneration, there was still a need to address short term challenges facing health workers.

“Having a plan which states that we need to produce PPE on our own and substitute imports is important as a long-term solution.

“This then needs to be supported by how we can address the current shortages in PPE and protect health workers from Covid-19 while also ensuring patient safety,” he added.

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