WHO urges countries to protect healthcare workers

Sept. 18, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) called on governments to address threats to the health and safety of healthcare workers and patients, saying that the pandemic has highlighted the extent to which protecting healthcare workers is the key to ensuring a functioning health system and a functioning society.

In honor of World Patient Safety Day, the WHO said governments and health services at the local level should take five actions to better protect healthcare workers. These include steps to protect healthcare workers from violence; to improve their mental health; to protect them from physical and biological hazards; to advance national programs for healthcare worker safety, and to connect health worker safety policies to existing patient safety policies.

Although not representative, data from many countries across WHO regions indicate that COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers are far greater than those in the general population.

While healthcare workers represent less than 3 percent of the population in the large majority of countries and less than 2 percent in almost all low- and middle-income countries, around 14 percent of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO are among healthcare workers. In some countries, the proportion can be as high as 35 percent. However, the WHO also noted that the availability of quality data is limited. 

In addition to physical risks, a recent review of healthcare professionals found that one in four reported depression and anxiety, and one in three suffered insomnia during COVID-19, the WHO said, citing a study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

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