WHO and partners call for action to better protect health and care workers from COVID-19

Oct. 22, 2021

The World Health Organization and partners have issued an urgent call for concrete action to better protect health and care workers worldwide from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The organizations are concerned that large numbers of health and care workers have died from COVID-19, but also that an increasing proportion of the workforce are suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety and fatigue.

In a joint statement issued this week, WHO, Frontline Health Workers Coalition; Global Health Workforce Network; Health Service Executive, Ireland; International Council of Nurses; International Pharmaceutical Federation; International Labor Organization; OECD; Public Services International and the World Medical Association, have called on all member state governments and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, ill-health and deaths among healthcare workers.  They should specify each of those monitored by age, gender and occupation, as a standard procedure. This will enable decision makers and scientists to identify and implement mitigation measures to further reduce the risk of infections and illness.

The statement also urges political leaders and policy makers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy and investment decisions that ensure the protection of healthcare workers.  It highlights the opportunity to align this with a forthcoming global healthcare worker compact and the International Labor Organization’s call for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, the partners call upon leaders and policy makers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that healthcare workers are prioritized in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations.  Available data from 119 countries suggest that by September 2021, two in five healthcare workers had been fully vaccinated, though with considerable differences across regions and economic status.  Less than one in ten had been fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions, while 22 mostly high-income countries reported that more than 80% of their healthcare workers are fully vaccinated. A few large high-income countries have not yet reported data to WHO.

A new WHO working paper  estimates that 80,000 to 180,000 healthcare workers died from COVID-19 in the period between January 2020 to 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 of May 2021; a number that is likely much lower than the real death toll (60% or more than what is reported to WHO), according to the news release from WHO.

WHO release

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