World Physiotherapy, as part of the World Health Professions Alliance (WHPA), has joined WHO’s call for concrete action to better protect health and care workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other health issues.
In a joint statement issued earlier this week, WHO and its partners are calling on all member state governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health and deaths among health and care workers. The statement calls for monitoring and reporting to include disaggregation by age, gender and occupation as a standard procedure, to enable decision makers and scientists to identify and implement mitigation measures that will further reduce the risk of infections and ill-health.
Jonathon Kruger, World Physiotherapy chief executive officer, said: “We are concerned about the large numbers of health and care workers, including physiotherapists, who have died from COVID-19, and the increasing proportion of the workforce who are suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and Long COVID.
“This joint statement urges political leaders and policy makers to make the necessary regulatory, policy and investment decisions to ensure the protection of health and care workers, and to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritised in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Available WHO data from 119 countries/territories suggest that by September 2021, two in five health and care workers were fully vaccinated on average, with considerable difference across regions and economic groupings. Less than 1 in 10 have been fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions while 22 mostly high income countries/territories reported that above 80% of their health and care workers were fully vaccinated.
Jim Campbell, director of the WHO health workforce department, said: “We have a moral obligation to protect all health and care workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. This must include access to vaccines. Beyond vaccines, economic recovery and all new investments in emergency preparedness and response must prioritise the education and employment of health and care workers, linking to the UN Secretary-General’s Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection.”
A new WHO working paper estimates between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 in the period between January 2020 and May 2021, converging to a medium scenario of 115,500 deaths. These estimates are derived from the 3.45 million COVID-19 related deaths reported to WHO as at May 2021; a number by itself considered to be much lower than the real death toll (60% or more than what is reported to WHO).
Catherine Duggan, chief executive officer of the International Pharmaceutical Federation and one of the members of the WHPA, said: “This WHO working paper provides a stark number to stimulate greater action; we cannot afford to lose more health and care workers and our world will not recover from the pandemic without long-term, sustainable investments in the health workforce.”