Medics soldier at war without military gear

 Medical personnel preparing to visit the ward for quarantined people who had close contacts with the first Kenyan Covid-19 patient at Kenyatta National Hospital on March 15, 2020.  

Photo credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba | Afp

What you need to know:

  • The World Health Organization stipulates certain rights that every doctor and health worker is entitled to from their employer.
  • The employer should provide access to mental health and counselling resources to workers; and enable co-operation between management and workers and/or their representatives.

As a doctor and human being, I’m deeply saddened by the death of my colleague, Dr Doreen Adisa Lugaliki. What drives me into deeper agony is that we might lose more doctors and health workers to Covid-19, if the government does not take responsibility for their lives by providing PPEs and proper working conditions.

Healthcare workers are in the frontline of the pandemic war and, as such, more exposed to the virus than anyone else. They face numerous risks — such as pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stipulates certain rights that every doctor and health worker is entitled to from their employer.

Among other responsibilities, the employer should ensure that all necessary preventive and protective measures are taken to minimise occupational safety and health risks; provide information, instruction and training on occupational safety and health; provide adequate IPC and PPE supplies in sufficient quantity to those caring for suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients; and familiarise personnel with technical updates on the disease and provide appropriate tools to assess, triage, test and treat patients and to share infection prevention and control information with the public.

He should provide appropriate security for personal safety; a blame-free environment to report on incidents; and measures for immediate follow-up.

Occupational safety

Besides, the employer should advise workers on self-assessment, symptom reporting and staying home when ill; maintain appropriate working hours with breaks; consult with health workers on occupational safety and health aspects of their work and notify the labour inspectorate of cases of occupational diseases; not require a worker to return to a work situation where there is continuing or serious danger to life or health; allow workers to exercise the right to remove themselves from a work situation that they believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health; and honour the right to compensation, rehabilitation and curative services if infected with Covid-19.

Lastly, the employer should provide access to mental health and counselling resources to workers; and enable co-operation between management and workers and/or their representatives.

There is one doctor for every 25,000 Kenyans; Dr Lugaliki’s death means 25,000 don’t have a doctor.

The Covid-19 war is one with an invisible enemy who is crippling our nation in all aspects. Were it a physical enemy, the government would invest in a military strategy, military attire for the soldiers and military equipment. In this case, healthcare workers are soldiers in a war with no weapons.

The government must play its role in protecting them lest all our effort and sacrifice become futile.

Dr Gor is the secretary, KMPDU Central Branch. [email protected]