6 steps to protect and support our healthcare workers
- COVID-19 has exacerbated the global shortage of healthcare workers and the challenges they face.
- With women making up 70% of the health workforce, gender policies are needed to protect and support them.
- By improving working conditions in the healthcare sector and investing in our healthcare workforce, we can better prepare for the next pandemic.
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted structural vulnerabilities and lack of pandemic preparedness in our health systems.
These vulnerabilities have been further affected by a shortage of health workers.
The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented demand for care capacity in clinics, hospitals, intensive care units and home care. Healthcare workers were providing care much longer hours in overwhelmed facilities, often with insufficient skills and training combined with a lack of protective equipment. With understaffed facilities, many workers doubled as caregivers and provided clinical training to volunteers.
The stressful working conditions have had a negative impact on the physical, intellectual and psychological ability of healthcare workers to continue working in the sector. High turnover is expected among healthcare workers, especially those who provide direct patient care and work in overwhelmed facilities.
It is not only detrimental to the workers themselves. Healthcare workers will remain our greatest asset to fight COVID-19 through to the end as vaccine suppliers, as well as to address other global health risks through health promotion. , prevention, treatment and patient care. Failure to address the issues related to working conditions in the healthcare sector and the pressures these workers face could affect our ability to cope with future health emergencies.
Women are the key to health security
In a discussion at the World Economic Forum, The essential role of healthcare workers during the pandemic, Dr Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref Health Africa Group, pointed out that as 70% of the global health workforce, women play a critical role in health security.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women. There has been a higher prevalence of COVID infections as well as anxiety, fear and suicide among female healthcare workers, compounded by the burden of home care that typically falls on women.
Responding to shocks in the health sector has made working conditions even more complex. Dr Jennifer White, director of the health emergencies department at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Pa., Shares that the biggest challenge was the fear of the unknown – what the virus is, how it spreads, and how to treat it.
This fear was compounded by daily work experiences. The Jefferson Emergency Department was seeing 220 patients a day and the nursing homes were devastated. Meanwhile, while caring for patients, workers also worried about how to protect their families, says Dr White.
To strengthen health systems and prepare for the next pandemic, it is clear that we need gender-based policies that will protect and improve the conditions of women health workers.
6 steps to improve working conditions in healthcare and pandemic preparedness
1. Prepare and invest. Despite repeated warnings that we could face a health pandemic in the near future, no country or health service has been prepared. Healthcare should be redesigned based on the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic – and healthcare workers should lead the work on health policy. Additional investments are needed to build resilient health systems and facilities, leverage communities, and focus health work on prevention.
2. Address the nursing and skills shortage among the health workforce. Every country has reported a shortage of health workers. Empowering healthcare workers through training and pooling of workers is essential, and doing so in a quick and accessible manner will alleviate overloaded facilities and allow better responsiveness in healthcare.
3. Prioritize the safety of healthcare workers. At the start of the pandemic, a large number of healthcare workers did not have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). The International Council of Nurses “estimates that on average, around 10% of all confirmed COVID-19 infections are among healthcare workers, with a range of 0 to 15%. At time of data review, more than 90 million people had been infected with COVID-19”. Inadequate safety in healthcare working environments, including a lack of PPE, has compromised the health and safety of healthcare workers, their families and patients.
4. Compile comprehensive and systematic health data. Health data is crucial for providing the best healthcare response as well as for understanding and responding to the transmission of infections. During the pandemic, the lack of comprehensive data – and countries not recording health data systemically – resulted in slow turnaround times and backlogs of patients, exacerbating overwhelmed facilities.
5. Support the mental health needs of healthcare workers. Fighting a new virus, responding to an influx of patients, working in fragile and overwhelmed environments and limiting contact with families and loved ones are just some of the challenges that negatively affect the psychological well-being of healthcare workers. . Many healthcare workers have reported harsh working conditions as the causes of stress, anxiety and depression, which are further compounded by personal and professional stigma.
6. Adopt an intergovernmental and multistakeholder approach. Ministries of health alone cannot solve working conditions problems in the health sector – a whole-of-government approach is needed. It is also important to leverage the expertise of multiple stakeholders to drive transformational change by creating safe, secure and responsive healthcare work environments.
The first global pandemic in over 100 years, COVID-19 has spread around the world at an unprecedented rate. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died from the virus.
As countries seek to recover, some of the longer-term economic, trade, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just starting to become visible.
To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-up effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group , launched his COVID-19 Risk Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, based on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.
Companies are invited to join the work of the Forum to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across all sectors to shape a better future. Read the whole COVID-19 Risk Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications Here, and our impact story with further information.