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Protecting Health Care Workers: New Study ‘Spotlights Critical Gap’ In Health Security

Researchers From Resolve To Save Lives & Johns Hopkins University ‘Identify Practical Steps’ Countries ‘Can Take To Protect’ Health Workers, ‘Curb’ COVID-19 & ‘Prepare For Future’ Epidemics

Published Friday, June 26, 2020
Protecting Health Care Workers: New Study ‘Spotlights Critical Gap’ In Health Security

(NEW YORK CITY) - As Health Care Workers around the world risk their lives on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, their consistently elevated rates of infection suggest countries are not doing enough to limit their risk.

In “Assessing and Reducing Risk to Health Care Workers in Outbreaks,” a new paper published in the journal Health Security, a team of Global Health Researchers and Practitioners cite alarming evidence of insufficient protections for Health Care Workers.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States, Health Care Workers accounted for nearly one in five reported cases.

The paper identifies three practical steps countries can take now to improve Health Care Worker safety, including: Prioritizing Health Care Worker protection in global assessments of epidemic preparedness; Developing protocols to rapidly evaluate protections in health facilities; and Prioritizing access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and treatment.

“Without Health Care Workers, there is ‘no’ health care,” said Registered Nurse (RN) Amanda McClelland, who serves as Senior Vice President of the Prevent Epidemics Program at Resolve to Save Lives - an initiative of Vital Strategies.

“COVID-19 has confirmed Health Care Workers, who are on the front lines when it comes to ‘stopping’ epidemics, ‘are still among the most vulnerable.’  ‘This jeopardizes global health security and weakens our ability to respond to future epidemics,’” McClelland said.

Health Care Workers are put at elevated risk by deficiencies in health facility infrastructure (such as a lack of running water and electricity or acceptable isolation wards), with supplies (PPE and cleaning supplies), training and preparedness measures.

“Governments and international organizations ‘should treat’ Health Care Workers ‘like the scarce resource they are,’” said Colby Wilkason, a Technical Advisor at Resolve to Save Lives and the paper’s lead Author. “Losing Health Care Workers ‘should not be accepted as a tragic inevitability when investment in basic protections can save their lives as well as the people they care for.’”

In studies of recent outbreaks of Ebola and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, a significant number of total cases were acquired in hospitals or other health care settings.

Another concern is that infections among Health Care Workers can lead to super-spreading events in health facilities.

One study of COVID-19 showed that up to 41% of patients in a hospital were infected due to transmission that occurred within the facility.

To better protect Health Care Workers from infection and strengthen global capacity to respond to COVID-19 and future outbreaks, the paper’s authors recommend: Grading countries on their standards for the safe delivery of health care by integrating it into the way their epidemic preparedness is evaluated; Developing protocols for countries to rapidly evaluate the preparedness of individual health facilities; and Prioritizing Health Care Workers’ access to PPE and other preventive and treatments as they become available

Health Care Worker risk also has a ripple effect on population health.

Fewer Health Care Workers on the job due to illness or death, especially in places where they are already scarce, also deters patients from seeking care.

One study estimated that the loss of Health Care Workers to Ebola in West Africa in 2014-2015 resulted in an additional 4,022 women dying in childbirth each subsequent year in the three most affected countries.

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