Health workers afraid of passing Covid to family

More than 180 health care workers have died due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and about two-thirds of these front liners say they need more personal protective equipment.

This was revealed on Thursday by the survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN)  Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine.

The data from the survey also suggests that health workers don’t know the correct use of PPE in some clinical situations, such as to use an N95 mask when treating a patient in an emergency or how surgical masks are used in critical and intensive care of Covid-19 patients.
About 7 600 healthcare professionals participated in the survey. They were asked about, amongst many issues,  access to PPE  in the workplace, the training they received, their general wellbeing as well as awareness and attitudes to the novel coronavirus.

The launch of the survey results comes just after health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that more than 24 000 health care workers had been infected with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in South Africa. Another 181 have died because of the virus bringing the national infection of health care workers to 5% of all confirmed cases.

“We have also kept track of the level of infection on health workers globally,” Mkhize said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
“As part of continuous monitoring, we have requested provinces to verify further and break down this data so that we know exactly how many health workers have demised or recovered.”


In July, the African division of the World Health Organization (WHO) raised concerns over the rising numbers of health workers who were infected with the virus on the continent. 

“The growth we see in Covid-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.

“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this than the rising number of health worker infections.” WHO Africa said PPE shortages and weak infection prevention and control measures increase health worker’s risk of infection.

Labour unions have also raised concerns about the availability of PPE and other measures that have been put in place to protect health care workers. This includes safe transport to travel to work, regular screening for Covid-19, rotation of staff and providing counselling sessions due to the emotional and mental toll of working on the frontlines.

Although Gauteng and Western Cape have the highest number of cases in the country, health workers in these provinces believed they were less likely to contract the virus while those in North West and Free State had the highest risk perception. The HSRC and UKZN survey also investigated the emotional and physical impact of Covid-19 on the country’s health workers between 11 April and 7 May.
The majority of the workers were highly concerned about passing on Covid-19 to their family members.The mental health of front liners has also been thrust into the spotlight as many have spoken out about their work conditions and the fears they have about contracting the virus or infecting their families.

“The level of concern for personal and family well-being and for passing COVID-19 infection to family members was significantly higher than for other possible issues of concern,” reads the report. 

Responding to the survey results, clinical manager at the Edenvale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg  Dr Nhlakanipho Gumede says the survey is valuable because it mandates government to respond to the concerns of health workers.

“Health workers want to be prepared. They want to know that somebody understands and wants to respond to their concerns too. They want to be protected against being infected and that the risk of their family members being infected as well. Lastly, they want to be prepared to be provided with the relevant information and information doesn’t have to come once,” he adds.  

Meanwhile, head of the Health Professionals Council of South Africa Kgosi Letlape says he is concerned about the “cavalier attitude of medical practitioners”.

“Are doctors taking things [this pandemic] too lightly? Are they infecting their families at home? We’ve just buried nine colleagues in the last week in relation to Covid-19,” he says. “The issue of risk perception becomes is real because people do as they see. It all becomes a joke if we’re taking the pandemic seriously, but not acting seriously.” 

The survey revealed that the level of concern for health and wellbeing significantly differed across the various healthcare professions with nurses having the lowest health and wellbeing as compared to other health workers. For instance, nearly half of the nurses surveyed were extremely concerned about family members and personal fitness — with three out of every five fearing to infect their family members. On the other hand, health workers in the public sector experienced “higher psychological distress” than those working in the private sector while in general those that were more stressed reported lower levels of general health than those were less stressed.
Close to 50% of the survey participants indicated they worked in public health facilities and about a third reported working in the private sector — while 3% said they work in both. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Pontsho Pilane
Pontsho Pilane is an award-winning journalist interested in health, gender, race and how they intersect. She holds three degrees in media studies and journalism from Wits University

Related stories

Three digital transformation priorities for African healthcare organisations

With doctors in short supply, healthcare employers need to invest in intelligent technologies to make the experience of accessing healthcare as good as it can be, for all involved

Behind the masks: Meet the people who keep Gauteng’s Covid-19 field hospital going

Get to know the cleaners, plumbers and therapists who work at the Nasrec field hospital. Plus, find out what happens to newspapers, food and medical equipment used at the Covid-19 facility

Eastern Cape university goes all in to assist provincial health-care efforts

A special steering committee seeks to fill urgent gaps in the system in order to fight the coronavirus

Gauteng nurses say they did not take an oath to die

With more resources than other provinces, health workers in Gauteng still say they do not have enough protective equipment to ensure safety when working with Covid-19 patients

Nurses work and care in fear of Covid

Staff at Tygerberg hospital detail how, despite their fear of the coronavirus, they continue to help in the medical response to the pandemic

The doctor who gave her life to stop Ebola in Nigeria

When Ebola first hit Lagos, Dr Ameyo Adadevoh knew something was seriously wrong, so she did something about it
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…