For healthcare workers, a simple thank you will no longer do

A nurse turns on some equipment set up at the High Dependency Unit of the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital in Mombasa on April 10, 2020.
PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • While we remain sheltered in the comfort of our homes and have the luxury of social distancing, we only watch what health workers are doing on TV and read about it in newspapers.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with the men and women who lead the taskforce on coronavirus in Kenya.

During the meeting, one person in the room spoke about his experience comforting a health worker who had just been told that her Covid-19 tests had come back positive.

She simply broke down and nobody wanted to come near her -- not even those who have worked with her for many years.

The man explained how he took the risk of comforting the her. This sparked something in me. I wanted to find out just how safe our health workers really are.

OUR COMFORT, THEIR BUSINESS

It dawned on me that while we remain sheltered in the comfort of our homes and have the luxury of social distancing, we only watch what health workers are doing on TV and read about it in newspapers.

Medical providers in the frontline are the people who in most cases cannot go home and who risk their health and that of their families to make sure that our families are safe.

Some medical workers have said they have slept in different rooms from their partners and they have even worn surgical masks at home.

Others have chosen to completely isolate themselves from their families by sending their spouses and children to live elsewhere or by moving into hotels.

STAFF RESIDENCES

So far, few hospitals have announced the establishment of residences for their own staff who may be required to stay in hospital to manage coronavirus patients. A simple thank you is all they get at the end of the day, but this is simply not enough.

For some that have tried to go above their regular call to reward these workers, their quests have been shot down.

For instance, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission has opposed the move by Machakos County Government to offer special allowances for its health workers.

This is quite unfair, given the risk that the workers take every minute.

Already, 10 clinical officers, six doctors and four nurses are said to have contracted the virus and several health workers in a renowned private hospital have been put in quarantine after coming in contact with persons who were later confirmed to have the virus.

REAL FEAR

The fear of bringing the disease home to children and spouses is especially real for frontline workers.

Doctors, clinical officers and nurses have said they can look overseas for a dark glimpse of the risk they are facing, especially when protective gear has been in short supply.

In China, where the first case of coronavirus was reported, more than 3,000 doctors were infected, and in Italy, the number of infected healthcare workers is now twice the Chinese total.

Health workers in Kenya have expressed concern over the distribution of personal protective equipment to not only coronavirus isolation centers but also all health facilities.

NECESSARY MOVE

The acting secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, Chibanzi Mwachonda, said there is need to ensure the safety of health workers.

The union is pushing for the hiring of doctors in less than a week, a viable argument since two weeks is far too long at this critical stage of the pandemic.

In Ghana, the health minister announced that all health professionals and allied professionals in the frontline of coronavirus response will be insured under various covers. It would be nice if this were replicated in Kenya.

The Coronavirus Tracker