BY GOODY GOR
As a doctor and a human being, I continue to be deeply saddened by the death of my colleague, Dr. Doreen Adisa Lugaliki, who lost her life to Covid-19.
What drives me into deeper agony is that we might just lose more doctors and health workers if the government does not take responsibility for the lives of health workers by providing PPE and proper working conditions.
Healthcare workers are at the frontline of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and as such, are more exposed to the virus more than anyone else. There are numerous risks such pathogen exposure, long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence just to mention a few, among other challenges we face as health workers.
The World Health Organization states that there are certain rights that every doctor and health worker is entitled to from their employers. In this case this applies to the government and private hospitals.
They are one, the employer should assume overall responsibility to ensure that all necessary preventive and protective measures are taken to minimise occupational safety and health risks.
Two, the employer should provide information, instruction and training on occupational safety and health, including refresher training on infection prevention and control; and use, putting on, taking off and disposal of personal protective equipment.
Three, the employer should provide adequate IPC and PPE supplies (masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitiser, soap and water, cleaning supplies) in sufficient quantity to healthcare or other staff caring for suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, such that workers do not incur expenses for occupational safety and health requirements.
Fourthly, the employer should familiarise personnel with technical updates on Covid-19 and provide appropriate tools to assess, triage, test and treat patients and to share infection prevention and control information with patients and the public.
Fifth, the employer should as needed, provide with appropriate security measures for personal safety by providing a blame-free environment for workers to report incidents, such as exposures to blood or bodily fluids from the respiratory system or to cases of violence, and to adopt measures for immediate follow-up, including support to victims.
Sixth, the employer should advise workers on self-assessment, symptom reporting and staying home when ill; and maintain appropriate working hours with breaks.
Eight, the employer should consult with health workers on occupational safety and health aspects of their work and notify the labour inspectorate of cases of occupational diseases;
Health workers should not be required to return to a work situation where there is continuing or serious danger to life or health, until the employer has taken any necessary remedial action;
The employer should allow workers to exercise the right to remove themselves from a work situation that they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health. When a health worker exercises this right, they shall be protected from any undue consequences;
They should also honour the right to compensation, rehabilitation and curative services if infected with Covid-19 following exposure in the workplace. This would be considered occupational exposure and resulting illness would be considered an occupational disease,
The employer should also provide access to mental health and counselling resources; and enable co-operation between management and workers and/or their representatives.
The fight against Covid-19 is a joint effort between healthcare workers, the public and the government. We all must play our roles if we are to win the fight or at least flatten the curve.
For every 25,000 Kenyans we have one doctor.
The loss of Dr Lugaliki means that there are 25,000 Kenyans that are left without one. She lost her life at a time when doctors are a needed asset in the fight against coronavirus.
I look at the fight against COVID 19 as a war with an enemy that we cannot see but continues to cripple our nation in all aspects be it socially, economically and physically by the number of people we continue to loose.
If we were at war with 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 military attire and no military equipment. Do you think we will win the war? I don’t think so.
The government needs to play its role in protecting health care workers otherwise all the effort and sacrifice we have made as a nation in this fight will be futile.
Dr Goody Gor, Secretary KMPDU Central Branch