Coronavirus: Caring For Healthcare Workers On The Frontline
As at 21st March 2020, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has infected 279,320 people and killed over 11,587 people worldwide since the first case was reported in December 2019. In Italy alone, there are over 10,000 confirmed cases with over 600 deaths in just 24 hours.
Healthcare workers are pushed to their limits as they face an overwhelming number of patients and they run the risk of passing on the virus to other patients if they are not properly protected.
Work in Nigeria by our healthcare workers may appear fine so far only because we are still in the embryonic state in the outbreak locally. The early medical information on the transmission of COVID-19 suggests that asymptomatic carriers may be responsible for the rapid spread of the virus. People with mild symptoms may also unwittingly pass it on to others, including doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. Our healthcare workers are actually at risk at the moment especially when the clinical diagnostic criteria are not too exact and only a few centres can carry out confirmatory tests in Nigeria.
Our healthcare workers are unable to live their regular lives at the moment as social life has been suspended and many refrain from seeing their families out of fear of infecting them. Practical problems such as staff shortages in our health facilities, unavailability of safe ambulances for patients and corpses, incorrect triage, and limited availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), are all contributing to the amplification of the quagmire faced by our healthcare personnel on the frontline.
Lack of ordinary running water in some of our health facilities will further hamper the simplest infection control precaution of hand washing. It is like asking members of the armed forces to go into combat in wartime without ammunition and adequate personal protection. That is our expectation from our healthcare workers during these trying times.
Some healthcare workers may become infected despite observing protective protocols. In Nigeria, Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh paid the supreme price during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. May her soul Rest In Peace.
The Nigerian government should immediately develop federal guidelines to protect healthcare workers from infection. Every hospital in Nigeria should also immediately develop its own procedures on how to handle a person who is exhibiting symptoms so as to protect the healthcare workers. The Health Minister, Dr Osagie is giving almost daily updates and advisory. The Lagos State governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu is replicating this in his state with his very hardworking Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, who is unarguably Nigeria’s best health commissioner at the sub-national level.
All sub-national state governments must get their acts together and make available, supplementary funding to prevent global pandemic from consuming us. This, however, must not be an avenue to siphon public funds for other purposes. The Civil Society must also display utmost vigilance during these trying times.
Companies operating in Nigeria, celebrities, and concerned individuals should assist the government in providing full PPE (personal protective equipment) suit, including a gown, mask, gloves and head cap for use by healthcare workers who have put their lives on the line for all of us.
Since the Nigerian government is already taken precautionary measure by closing down schools, restricting religious worships and social gatherings, let us take more personal decisions for the care of healthcare workers. They stay at work for us. Let us stay at home for them especially in states where many have tested positive. This is not the time to club or organize birthday parties. Let us self-isolate and take shelter in safe places to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Finally, as our healthcare workers are on the frontline juggling their commitment to their patients, the panic from the general population and their own anxiety, let us pray for them and the entire world for this plague to pass over us.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
By Dr Philip Ugbodaga BDS, FWACS, FICS, Health Support Initiative (HSI)