The World Health Organisation and partners have called for concrete action to better protect health and care workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other health conditions.
The WHO and partners expressed concern that large numbers of health and care workers have died from COVID-19, but also that an increasing proportion of the workforce is suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
In a joint statement issued this week, the WHO and partners called on all member state governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health, and deaths among health and care workers.
They also urged the 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.
“The statement also urges political leaders and policymakers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy, and investment decisions that ensure the protection of health and care workers.
“It highlights the opportunity to align this with a forthcoming global health and care worker compact and the International Labour Organisation’s call for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
“Finally, the partners call upon leaders and policymakers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritised in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Available data from 119 countries suggest that by September 2021, two in five health and care workers were fully vaccinated on average, with a considerable difference across regions and economic groupings.
“Less than one in ten have been fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions, while 22, mostly high-income countries, reported that above 80 per cent of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated. A few large high-income countries have not yet reported data to WHO,” the statement from WHO read in part.
The Director of the WHO Health Workforce Department, Jim Campbell said, “We have a moral obligation to protect all health and care workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. This must include access to vaccines.”
“Beyond vaccines, economic recovery and all new investments in emergency preparedness and response must prioritise the education and employment of health and care workers, linking to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection,” he added.
A new WHO working paper estimates that between 80,000 to 180,000 health and care workers could have died from COVID-19 in the period between January 2020 to May 2021, converging to a medium scenario of 115,500 deaths.
These estimates are derived from the 3.45 million COVID-19 related deaths reported to WHO as of May 2021; a number by itself considered to be much lower than the real death toll (60 per cent or more than what is reported to WHO).
“This WHO working paper provides a stark number to stimulate greater action; we cannot afford to lose more health and care workers and our world will not recover from the pandemic without long-term, sustainable investments in the health workforce,” said Catherine Duggan, Chief Executive Officer of the International Pharmaceutical Federation and one of several members of the World Health Professions Alliance allied with the joint statement.