The world has been battling the novel coronavirus since the announcement of a global pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organisation. Moreover, this global pandemic is receiving an extensive attention from the international communities because it is a major public health priority requiring collective efforts of all people around the world. Like many countries of the world, Namibia has been experiencing a rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases within the communities. While the Covid-19, cases are increasing, citizens are still falling ill and requiring treatment and care by healthcare workers, pregnant women still need midwives to take care of them during and after delivery. It is thus without doubt that the frontline healthcare workers remain the most valuable resource for every healthcare system and every country. More importantly, healthcare workers are playing a major role to combat the virus and therefore it is important that they are well protected and supported. Surely, the physical health and mental wellbeing of the frontline healthcare workers is critical in sustaining and ensuring safe and quality patient care during this trying times.
Just like any other human being, healthcare workers are not immune to contract Covid-19 if they do not adhere to the measures put in place to protect and prevent the transmission of the virus. This means that healthcare workers must always ensure that they correctly wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) while caring for clients in the healthcare facilities. PPE are protective clothing and gears or equipment that are specially designed to protect and prevent the users from workplace injuries and infections. Indeed the risk of transmission for health care workers is doubled because they live in communities where the virus is, and also that they work in healthcare facilities by taking care of community members who could be potential carriers of the virus. At the time of writing down this piece, about 113 healthcare workers in Namibia were reported to have tested positive to Covid-19. With this high number of infected healthcare workers, does it mean that they are not well protected from contracting Covid-19 if indeed they acquired and got infected while honouring their duties?
The government of the Republic of Namibia and the Ministry of Health and Social Services in particular, together with the development partners have promised to ensure that there is adequate and continuous supply of PPE for frontline healthcare workers. Thus when PPE are donned and doffed correctly, there is minimal, to no risk, of healthcare workers contracting infections such as coronavirus. In addition to the PPE, there is also a need to ensure that there is continuous supply and availability of soap and hand disinfectants for healthcare workers to maintain hand hygiene.
The ongoing public education in Namibia about the preventative measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, and which is done in the different languages spoken in the country seem to be taken lightly by some members of the public. This is evidenced through observations of behaviours of some patients and clients in the healthcare facilities not adhering to the measures such as social distancing, correct wearing of facemasks and hand hygiene even when adhering to all these measures are possible. Evidence have indicated that the Covid-19 risk of transmission and spread is high in areas with poor ventilation and where many people gather; and also in areas which are not frequently cleaned or disinfected. Some of the current old infrastructure in some hospitals in Namibia are built in such a way that sometimes there are no windows thus making it challenging for sufficient and clean air for ventilation. This infrastructure challenge could be a potential risk for healthcare workers to acquire the virus, especially in the clinical areas where full PPE gears are not worn, if patients and visitors are left to freely roam in the hospital corridors and wards without wearing facemasks or not properly wearing facemasks and not adhering to the measures put in place.
The rapid increase of the Covid-19 cases within the communities should be a call to members of the public visiting and admitted in the healthcare facilities to always adhere to the measures and help protect our frontline workers from contracting coronavirus. Because, as the frontline healthcare workers are getting infected and falling ill, they will be pulled out of service. And when they are pulled out of service, it results in a shortage of staff, with those remaining in service faced with exhaustion as a result of overwork, exposure to large numbers of patients in long shifts and with inadequate rest periods. Without doubt, the protection of healthcare workers is vital in continuing patient care in healthcare systems that are currently challenged by the pandemic.
It should also be pointed out that healthcare workers basic human rights must be respected, including the right to speak out when there is a dissatisfaction, be protected from any kind of attack and or intimidation. Health workers on the frontline are the first to know if government policies are not working, and authorities that silence them cannot seriously claim to be prioritising public health. It is thus important that those in decision making positions listen to the healthcare workers on the ground to help the government to improve their response to the pandemic and keep everyone safe. Healthcare workers should not be silenced and should not be afraid to speak up.
Indeed, the healthcare workers are powerful agents for change and need to be involved in decision making and in shaping the ongoing outbreak response.
We pay the highest respect for the dedication and resilience of each frontline healthcare worker in the fight of this war against the novel coronavirus. Together we are stronger and with the joint efforts from everyone around the world, we will eventually overcome this pandemic. In fact, we should all look forward to the day coronavirus will be defeated!
*Tekla Shiindi-Mbidi is a Lecturer at IUM. These views are expressed in her own capacity as a Young Midwife Leader and a member of the board of directors for the Independent Midwives Association of Namibia