Meeting the basic needs of our healthcare workers

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Gabriela Yee Guzmán a 22-year old fifth-year medical student at Universidad Interamericana de Panamá. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The COVID-19 global pandemic has exposed and amplified a lot of problems in the healthcare system. As we continuously rely on healthcare workers to do their job in order to treat the enormous number of patients rushing to hospitals every day, the situation has been an eye-opener to the fact that healthcare workers are indispensable. As one of the most important resources in this pandemic, if not the most important, the logical thing would be to guarantee the health worker’s safety. Nevertheless, that has not been the case in a lot of scenarios.

The thing is, if the safety of the group of people responsible for providing health is not seen as one of the top priorities, ¿how can we ensure the patients they treat will be safe? Given the importance of that question, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made the theme of this year’s World Patient Safety Day “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety”. This topic is important all the time, but highlighting it during this pandemic is especially critical because several studies have proved that not only are healthcare workers at a higher risk of infection, but can also amplify outbreaks if they are infected.

The WHO has recommended several things to better protect our healthcare workers. Training them to identify respiratory diseases not only in patients, but also in themselves and their coworkers is necessary. Some countries have reports that state that up to 10% of health workers have been infected by coronavirus. This education must go in hand with strong hospital surveillance systems to help prevent the spread of infection. Even if these are not perfect, steps must be taken towards a reality were our healthcare systems are not as vulnerable to surprises as big as this pandemic.

Another one of the main issues during the outbreak has been personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, secondary to the increasing demand and the supply chain disruptions. Providing health care workers with adequate PPE and education on their correct application and removal is key. Reuse of PPE or inadequate use has been strongly associated with a subsequent increased risk of COVID-19, and although infection has been reported even in places were PPE is thought to be adequate, health care workers should not continue to put their lives on the line without the proper equipment. Lastly, supporting health workers in all aspects is crucial. They have been subject to extremely long shifts and intense psychological stress, and under these conditions, they cannot be expected to perform their best. Finding ways to provide them with rest time and psychological support is as relevant as PPE.

Even if they have rightfully earned the title of heroes, we must not forget that healthcare workers are still normal people, and they are not immune to the diseases that live inside the healthcare facilities. Preventing the illness and deaths of more healthcare workers is a staggering necessity, and we owe it to them and their families.

Sources:

CDC. (2020, July 2020). Interim Operational Considerations for Public Health Management of Healthcare Workers Exposed to or with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19: non-U.S. Healthcare Settings. Retrieved from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/non-us-settings/public-health-management-hcw-exposed.html

Lacina, L. (2020, April 10). What’s needed now to protect health workers: WHO COVID-19 briefing. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/10-april-who-briefing-health-workers-covid-19-ppe-training/

Nguyen, L. H. (2020). Risk of COVID-19 among front-line health-care workers and the general community: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet Public Health.

Tan, B. C. (2020). Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Health Care Workers in Singapore. Annals of internal medicine, 173 (4), 317 – 320.

WHO. (2020). World Patient Safety Day 2020. Retrieved from WHO: https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2020/09/17/default-calendar/world-patient-safety-day-2020

About the author

Gabriela Yee Guzmán is 22 years old, currently a fifth-year medical student at Universidad Interamericana de Panamá. She is a member of IFMSA Panamá since 2016, and is particularly interested in ophthalmology and public health, which is why she joined SCOPH in the first place. She believes that medical students have a lot to contribute to the field even if they are just still on their way to becoming a healthcare professional.

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