The coronavirus pandemic has spread with alarming speed across 213 countries and territories around the world, infecting millions of people and bringing many health systems to the brink of collapse. Many health workers are also suffering physical and psychological exhaustion after months of working in extremely stressful environments.
Just recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that over 1.4 million infections of COVID-19 are accounted for by healthcare workers, which is about 10 per cent of all cases. In Africa, more than 10 thousand health workers in 40 countries have been infected with the virus so far, and sadly, many have lost their lives.
Dedication, despite deprivation
Millions of healthcare workers around the world — doctors, pharmacists, nurses, hospital support staff, and other health care professionals, as well as first responders, including emergency rescue personnel, have faced the challenge of providing care for patients with coronavirus, while often ill-equipped and poorly prepared, risking their own lives to save others.
They challenge us all with their tireless work, self-sacrifice, commitment, dedication, and professionalism. They have been the heart and soul of the war against the COVID-19 public health crisis. They have been our guiding light in one of the darkest times of humanity and are indeed the real heroes of our generation.
In many African countries infection prevention and control measures aimed at preventing COVID-19 infections in health facilities are still not fully implemented. Many health centres lack the infrastructure necessary to implement key infection prevention measures, or to prevent overcrowding.
Patriotism, despite vulnerability
Surging global demand for protective equipment as well as global restrictions on travel have triggered supply shortages. Moreover, low-income countries especially those in Africa have even fewer resources, including the necessary protective equipment for their healthcare workers. These countries even before the pandemic have been battling with inadequate health infrastructures as a result of several decades of poor government funding.
Interestingly, in Nigeria where the government spends less than 4% of its annual budget on healthcare, the government recently proposed a 43% funding cut to primary healthcare services, in the context of an economy suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. Policies, such as this, put the lives of many healthcare workers at serious risk of COVID-19 infection in a stage where the virus now spreads at the community level.
It is evident that health professionals who work at the community/primary healthcare level are the ones who really need the resources and training in the fight against COVID-19 because they are the first point of contact to the public. These health workers are very often exposed to patients who do not show signs of the disease and are in the health facilities for a range of other services.
It is therefore expedient that public and private funds should be mobilised to ensure that protective equipment and other medical supplies are universally available and accessible to health workers so that they can perform their duties well. They deserve our support and encouragement. They are putting their lives and those of their immediate family in danger to save the lives of others, to save the public. This is what it means to be a hero.
At a time when Nigeria is in dire need of true heroes and leaders – courageous, patriotic, self-sacrificing people – our healthcare professional are setting extraordinary examples for all of us to follow. Despite inadequate compensation from the government and poor working conditions, many of our health workers have remained steady, with some having to give up financial rewards and even their dreams of a better life overseas to serve their fatherland.
Many health workers are also suffering physical and psychological exhaustion after months of working in extremely risky and stressful environments. Surely, they have clearly demonstrated the patriotism, heroism, loyalty indicated in our national creed – “…To serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith”.
Call to due recognition
There are many occasions in which these men and women of honour have had to embark on strike actions to force the government to hear their voice and attend to their needs. Situation like these have been a common occurrence for many years in Nigeria. Sadly, many of the issues and concerns raised have persisted in the nation’s health sector because the government at all levels have not been faithful to their responsibilities and promises of providing the right working conditions and encouragement to keep these gallant heroes motivated.
To all our healthcare professionals around the world who have been at the frontline of the coronavirus public health crisis, providing the much needed care to the most vulnerable of the population we say thank you for compassion, resilience and bravery.
To those who have lost their lives in this dark episode of human history, we appreciate you. Your sacrifice and heroism will forever remain unforgettable.