Features Write-Ups

COVID-19: FRONTLINE HEALTH WORKERS AS UNSUNG HEROES Ayo Afuwape

As it is with other fields of human endeavours, medicine could be as hazardous as it is regal. Though the degree and circumstances of the hazard vary according to the specialty; from infections and contaminations, disorders due to radiation, occupational dermatitis, and psychological disturbances, the medical line is a volatile profession that has thin line between its sweats and sweetness.

Medical practitioners suffer burns as a result of explosions in operating theatres, septic cuts and scratches, syphilis and AIDS infections and in some other instances risk death as one of the indispensable hazards in the line of duties.

In Italy alone, over 11,000 health workers have contracted the novel coronavirus with 80 deaths already reported while in Spain more than 3,900 health care workers have become infected.

A new study that examined the mental health of nearly 1,300 healthcare workers in China who dealt with COVID-19 patients by Jianbo Lai, of the Department of Psychiatry at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, revealed that health workers may be at a heightened risk of psychological distress and other mental health problems, due to the ever increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the overwhelming workload, an information overload, and insufficient personal protective equipment and drugs.

Among others, the study revealed that frontline healthcare workers were 52.0% more likely to have symptoms of depression, 57.0% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, 60.0% more likely to experience distress, and almost three times are likely to have insomnia than those who were not on the frontline.

A recent disclosure by Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, revealed that about 40 health workers in Nigeria have, so far, tested positive for COVID-19. This, to say the least, is very disheartening and portends a major setback to the fight against the virus.

Apart from these health workers, who have fallen victim to the deadly COVID-19 virus, several others have been quarantined due to exposure to some positive cases of the virus. In Benin, Edo State, 25 health workers were reportedly exposed the virus at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).

While it is not possible to take the risky part of the job away, it is absolutely necessary to make provisions for a robust compensation plan that would make the health workers feel appreciated, considering the risk they are always exposed.

While the Lagos State government may not have put in place a near perfect motivation regime for these set of officers, the few steps taken so far show that the government appreciates the sacrifices and selflessness of these life savers, especially in the face of the ravaging pandemic.

In the first roll of the motivations given to these frontline officials was a bumper insurance cover. A group of leading insurance companies comprising Leadway Assurance Company Limited, Custodian & Allied Insurance Plc, Lasaco Assurance Plc, AIICO Insurance Plc, Tangerine Life Insurance Limited and Ark Insurance Brokers Limited partnered the State government to pool together a health insurance cover of N5billion ($13.89 million at 360/$) for the State COVID-19 health workers and volunteers.

Similarly, the State government also identified the need to lift the spirits of these caregivers with melodious musical tunes. Thus, the appearance of Beejay Sax, one of the top-notch saxophonists in the country, at the Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, Yaba, last Easter Sunday, was meant to serenade these patriotic caregivers and unburden their souls of all forms of fear and anxiety.

Justifying the novel gesture, the State Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu said: “They deserved to sit in the midst of their family members and feast in this festive period, but the current national healthcare emergency occasion caused by the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic has robbed these frontline medical workers in Lagos State of the Easter celebration.”

Governor Sanwo-Olu said the gesture was informed by the need to personally demonstrate his gratitude to the health workers and to boost their morale, describing all the frontline health workers engaged by the State government in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as “heroes”.

Going by the testimony from one of the health volunteers at the IDH, that particular event lightened up their spirits and really motivated them to give their very best to this all important national assignment, which requires everyone joining hands with the government. The impact of this gesture by Mr. Governor, to say the least, is far-reaching.

The most recent in the efforts by the State government to motivate the health workers under its employ in the face of this pandemic was the announcement of 400 per cent increment in their hazard allowance. This is a way of appreciating their efforts as well as compensate them for their daily hazardous exposure to the highly contagious disease.

The gesture is an incentive to all Health Officers in the State, as Frontline Responders in the fight against the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic. Cheeringly, the Federal government has also granted approval of three months of COVID-19 allowances for medical Doctors, Pharmacists, Nurses and other health workers in Nigeria, with effect from March, 2020.

While this fresh impetus is very commendable, it should be added that more efforts could be spared to further motivate these devoted and selfless officials. Protection of the healthcare workers is, no doubt, an important component of public health measures for addressing the COVID-19 epidemic. It must, therefore, be made a major priority.

In winning the war against the deadly virus, the cooperation of everyone is needed so that our frontline soldiers (Doctors) will not become patients. We must do everything to support health workers who, despite their own well-founded fears, are stepping directly into COVID-19’s battlefield to aid the afflicted and help halt the virus’s spread.

As already projected that in sub-Saharan Africa as elsewhere, pressure on the healthcare workforce would intensify in the coming months, thus, all efforts spared to lessen the stress on them is worthwhile.

Afuwape is of the Social Media Department, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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