More than 10,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said Thursday.
Speaking during a virtual press conference, Moeti warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa.
More than 10 000 health workers in the 40 countries which have reported on such infections have been infected with COVID-19 so far, a sign of the challenges medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak face, she said.
This comes as COVID-19 cases in Africa appear to be gathering pace. There are now more than 750 000 cases of COVID-19, with over 15 000 deaths.
Some countries are approaching a critical number of infections that can place stress on health systems. South Africa is now among the worst-hit countries in the world.
“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent,” said Moeti.
“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.”
So far, about 10% of all cases globally are among health workers, though there is a wide range between individual countries.
In Africa, information on health worker infections is still limited, but preliminary data finds that they make up more than 5% of cases in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and in four of these, health workers make up more than 10% of all infections.
Inadequate access to personal protective equipment or weak infection prevention and control measures raise the risk of health worker infection. Surging global demand for protective equipment as well as global restrictions on travel have triggered supply shortages.
Health workers can also be exposed to patients who do not show signs of the disease and are in the health facilities for a range of other services.
Risks may also arise when health personnel are repurposed for COVID-19 response without adequate briefing, or because of heavy workloads which result in fatigue, burnout and possibly not fully applying the standard operating procedures.