The death toll among health workers due to the complications of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is disturbing and calls for adequate protection for them. In the last week of December 2020, at least 24 Nigerian doctors were killed after being infected by the virus. Four of the victims were from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The rate could be higher with unreported figures from other states. Similarly, more than 1,000 health personnel including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory staff, drivers and other auxiliary personnel are reported to have been infected by the virus since the index case of February last year. Out of the figure, 476 were from the FCT. As at June 2, 2020, 812 health workers in Nigeria had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.
The spread of the coronavirus among health workers is disturbing and demands immediate attention from the government. Since the doctors and other health workers are the ones in direct contact with the patients, everything must be done to ensure that all frontline workers are adequately protected. It is worth noting that since the outbreak of the pandemic, the health workers have been in the frontline and are exposed to the disease. The second wave of the virus has even made them more vulnerable to the disease. That is why they need special protection.
We, therefore, call on the government to ensure that the protection of health workers is prioritised forthwith. Now that the government has made arrangement to vaccinate some Nigerians, we believe that it should start with the health workers. They should be vaccinated and given other forms of protective equipment to enable them perform their duties effectively.
The call by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) for special training for the doctors in the fight against the pandemic is absolutely in order and should not be ignored. It should also be noted that COVID-19 is a novel disease that requires special training for the health workers. Apart from the training, the doctors also need personal protective equipment.
The Nigerian health sector is already challenged by inadequate number of professionals. The brain drain in the sector has not equally helped matters. We also think that further depletion of this number by deaths from COVID-19 pandemic will spell more doom for the nation’s poor healthcare system. Undue exposure to death arising from the coronavirus will add to the uncertainties that affect their concentration at work
Apart from protecting the health workers, government should also consider improving their working conditions, especially their remunerations and hazard allowances.
We urge the government at all levels to take another look at the conditions of the health professionals, especially in tackling COVID-19 pandemic. The best strategy to save the health workers from COVID-19-induced death is to create an enabling environment for them to thrive. Doctors and other health workers should observe the COVID-19 protocols and take personal preventive measures, such as social distancing, hand washing and wearing face masks. This is one of the best ways to curb the rising death of health workers arising from the pandemic.
The Federal Government should also consider banning flights from countries that have new variants of the disease or countries where the disease is endemic to stem its further spread in the country. We say this because the earlier exacerbation of the pandemic was traced to late closure of our airports to foreign flights. In addition to protecting l doctors and other health workers, there is urgent need for more public enlightenment on the disease now that the country is witnessing the second wave of the disease.
As at January 12, 2021, Nigeria had recorded 1,244 new confirmed cases of the disease and three deaths. Altogether, about 101,331 cases of the disease were confirmed. Eight thousand four hundred and ninety-one (80,491) cases were discharged and 1,361 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.