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Unions blame PPE shortage for Covid-19 infections among medics

Wednesday June 24 2020
medic

Mr Alfred Obengo, the president of the National Nurses Association of Kenya who says there are fears many healthcare could contract Covid-19 if critical issues are not addressed to ensure safety at work. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BERNADINE MUTANU

A healthcare worker has reportedly died from Covid-19 while tens have contracted the virus.

Unionists now fear the situation may get out of hand and want critical issues in the sector addressed.

During an interview with the Nation, Mr Alfred Obengo, the president of the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) said a nurse anaesthetist died in Kitengela due to the coronavirus.

The nurse becomes the latest addition to the increasing number of healthcare workers’ deaths around the world.

UNDERESTIMATION

Recently released data shows more than 600 nurses around the world have died after contracting Covid-19.

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“This is an underestimation, the truth is that they are more than that. Currently, we are collecting information and data from associations around the world,” said Mr Howard Catton, the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) in an exclusive interview.

Healthcare workers fear the increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients will overwhelm them if more staff are not deployed and if their welfare is not looked into.

Already, there are 87 cases of healthcare workers who have contracted the virus, said Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda, the acting secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU).

QUARANTINED

Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Secretary-General Seth Panyako said some members are among 30 nurses from the Kenyatta National Hospital’s intensive care unit who were put on quarantine after they came into contact with a patient who has since died.

He claimed that the special isolation ward for healthcare providers at KNH is full and that some are being forced to go for home-based care even before taking tests.

KNH did not comment on the matter when contacted.

Over the weekend, another 30 healthcare workers from Pumwani were put in quarantine after coming into contact with a suspected Covid-19 case.

CRISIS

“We need to have enough space for healthcare workers to isolate or quarantine. If nothing urgent is done, we are facing a crisis,” Mr Panyako said.

The isolation unit for healthcare providers at KNH is the only one in the country, Dr Mwachonda said, and proposed that counties establish such units.

But isolation or quarantine are not the main cause of worry for the healthcare providers.

Dr Mwachonda said defective or inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is the biggest threat.

“We have shortages on the ground because the government has focused on the provision of PPE in the treatment and isolation centres,” he said.

“When it comes to high-risk areas where the level two and three PPE are being used, there is still a big shortage.”

Dr Mwachonda said there is a shortage of N95 masks for the doctors and other healthcare workers as well as surgical gowns and goggles.

“Healthcare workers are operating under very difficult conditions in terms of provision of PPE,” he added.

SUBSTANDARD PPE

While noting that protective equipment have been trickling down to county health facilities very slowly, he alleged that some substandard PPE in the market further endanger healthcare workers.

“My members have been complaining about reusing masks for three days to one week in some counties,” he said.

The unionists said if the battle against Covid-19 is to be won, healthcare workers’ grievances should be addressed urgently.

In April, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the government would hire 6,000 healthcare providers.

Of these, 5,000 were to be deployed to county health facilities while 1,000 would remain in national hospitals. But the unionists say none have been posted to the counties.

“There is a big gap with regard to care for Covid-19 patients and other patients. The workers are strained,” said Dr Mwachonda.

According to the unionist, asymptomatic patients and healthcare providers remain the biggest risk factor in the fight against the virus.

“Going by evidence, in South Africa three hospitals had to be closed because workers got infected with Covid-19. This means we have to ensure our health workers are fully protected when it comes to PPE,” Dr Mwachonda said.

SALARIES AND BENEFITS

“We are ready to sacrifice, but we are not going to commit suicide. We shall still go to work but we will just sit and wait for equipment to come,” Mr Obengo said.

The health workers’ leaders also decried the failure by counties to pay their members’ salaries and other benefits.

On training of the health workers, the unionists agreed that this has been done well so far.

“The coverage has been good so far in terms of clinical management of Covid-19 patients. But they need to be trained on occupational safety and health,” Dr Mwachonda said.

He expressed doubt that infections among health workers could be due to improper removal or wearing of the PPE.

There is no standardised record of the number of healthcare workers who have contracted the virus in the country. This has been an issue in other countries as well.

DATA COLLECTION

According to Mr Catton, many countries have not been submitting information about healthcare providers who have contracted the virus.

“We have called on all the countries to collect the data in a systematic way because it will help us know whether there are settings that are more risky. Analysis of the data will help us understand the virus in terms of infection prevention measures,” said Mr Catton.

He said data will also help experts answer many questions surrounding use of personal protective equipment. According to him, where supply of PPE is adequate, the infections are much lower.

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