Though they are at the frontline of tackling diseases outbreak, their exposure to not only physical risks but psychological trauma put health workers in serious jeopardy.
Indeed, a new study has shown high rates of depression and anxiety among healthcare workers that treats patients suffering from COVID-19. The study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, quantified the risks of the healthworkers to be in serious jeopardy.
It found out that protecting healthcare workers is an important component of public health measures for addressing the COVID-19 epidemic.The report maintained that special interventions to promote mental wellbeing of the workers exposed to the pandemic need to be immediately implemented; with women, nurses, and frontline workers requiring particular attention.
For instance, the survey-based study examined the mental health of about 1,257 healthcare workers attending to COVID-19 in China, where it found out that the results are not comforting.
From a large proportion, 50 per cent reported experiencing symptoms of depression; 45 per cent, anxiety; 34 per cent, insomnia; and 71.5 per cent, psychological distress.
It reported that women and nurses showed signs of severe symptoms, given that they are often called on to do extra emotional labour, like keeping up a steady stream of reassurances while suppressing their own feelings which is known to take a toll.
The study explained that they experienced significant long term stress, with the fears contributing to their distress with obvious concern that they are at higher-than-average risk of contracting the virus.
Although, the study didn’t specify which mental health interventions should be used to help the workers, but the American Psychological Association (APA), noted that recommended methods for improving resilience during the SARS 2003 outbreak included a particular “stress appraisal and coping framework” as well as principles of “psychological first aid.”
When The Guardian sought the views of some of health workers, who shared their experience, they maintained that it has not been easy, adding that many of them are in tears, not at the thought of risking their own health but distancing themselves from their loved ones.
A health worker in Nigeria, who does not want her name in print, said the global pandemic period has been the most challenging after her 13 years of practice as a healthcare worker. She said she had to do little adjustment to fit in into her family’s daily routine.
According to her, “I called everyone together few days back to have a strict conversation (hubby and the kid). After enquiring from them what they know about COVID-19, my daughter was able to explain well except that she was misinformed that HydroxylChloroquine could cure the pandemic by her headmaster, that I have to straighten up and tell her it was wrong information.
“Though they have been using hand sanitizer, I had to emphasize that again, the need to wash their hands more frequently. “Then I had to bring that difficult part that henceforth, no more hugging mummy, no welcome embrace, no climbing on mummy’s body, no facing mummy directly to talk, no lying on mummy’s bed.
“I told hubby too, no close contact, no kissing, no lying on same bed, no sitting on same chair and so much more.
“They were looking wildly at me and I also felt the hit of the rules but I have to put them first. I told hubby that his wife is like a soldier in war front, he has to bear with me till the battle is won. I also had to re-assure them that I will do my best to keep safe for them; but I must protect them since I can’t stay at home and protect myself. I also told them to intensity prayers for me because that’s all I need now.
“I must confess that of my 13 years in practice, this is the most challenging. I am a Nurse, I can’t stay at home,” she said. Another healthcare worker, Sade Fadoyin, called the crisis “infuriating, and frightening frustrating”. She said while everyone is home on the stay-at-home order, she has to be at work to save lives. “People look to me daily to provide some measure of reassurance. I have little to offer,” she said.
Meanwhile, in many cities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak a nightly ritual has been taking place whereby people applaud and bang pots and pans from their windows and their balconies to show gratitude to the many health workers braving the battle against COVID-19.
The occupational safety and health of health workers is fundamental to enable them doing their jobs during this crisis as their protection must be a priority.
From the Sectoral Policies Department of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Health sector specialist, Christiane Wiskow, and Technical officer, health sector, Maren Hopfe, gave some hints on what is needed to be done to keep health workers safe.
They used for dialogue between health workers and employers to ensure policies and procedures are being implemented in an appropriate manner.They should be provided with social support within teams, families and friends, along with information and guidance for health workers on how to deal with stress and post-traumatic stress counselling, needs to be an integral part of the response.
They urged that governments should consult with social partners to monitor and regulate ad-hoc recruitments as well as occupational safety and health. They canvassed that other terms and conditions of employment needed to be addressed, such as social protection, remuneration, rest periods and working time arrangements.
They called for more recruit and training more health workers. According to them, “Investments need to be made in all health systems so that they can recruit, deploy and retain sufficient numbers of well-trained, supported and motivated health workers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic once again underlines the urgent need for a strong health workforce as an integral part of every resilient health system, and this is now recognised as essential foundation for the recovery of our societies and economies, and preparedness for future health emergencies.”
A health and safety expert, and Chief Executive Officer, Occupational Health and Safety Managers, Ehi Iden, who expressed concern for what a large number of healthcare workers are currently passing through, noted that the unprecedented figure is already putting a huge toll on caregivers.
For this period of pandemic, he said sleep is very important for them at this time, urging that they must be encouraged to observe reasonable hours of sleep so they do not also make mistakes that constitute medical errors, while they are allowed to have intermittent breaks within their work schedules.
“This will help overcome any existing awkward position and ergonomics discomforts where possible, we need to keep an eye closely on these healthcare workers, we have heard of a few cases of some suicidal events. Not everyone is at same level in adversity management, some people can get overwhelmed over what they have seen happen in the hospital and decide they cannot continue with life. So we need to look out for these. Having supporting mental health counsellors will be ideal.
“For those who are on night shift, we should not allow them to drive at the close of shift. We should make vehicles available to take them home so we can avert possible road crashes as a result of exhaustion. They could suffer from micro sleeps while driving. We need to take them home and pick them up for their duties the next day. Giving them a place to stay at the hospital will be ideal, they can only be driven home when they have their off days.
“At the end of this whole phase, we must not forget the sacrifices made by the people and possible health effects. They should all be assigned a mental health counsellor or a mental health therapist each to walk they through the trauma they must have suffered within this period.
“The mental health of caregivers will be adversely affected by this pandemic and them being on the front line at such a time. The trauma level they go through now is high and this is indicative of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when this is finally over. Sleep is luxury to an average healthcare worker now.
“One thing that can be done better at such a time is firstly, ensure that all healthcare workers have all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) that they all need to work. The need to first take care of the physical safety of the healthcare worker is important, they should be provided with the requisite hand gloves, nose masks, protective coveralls and the work tools they need to perform their job,” Iden said.