WHO: Alarming Number of Health Workers at Risk of COVID-19


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GENEVA - The World Health Organization is expressing alarm at the large number of health workers becoming infected by the deadly coronavirus.  The U.N. health agency is appealing for international support to provide health workers with the supplies and other tools needed to keep them safe.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says every single person has a role to play in ending this pandemic, which already has claimed more than 100,000 lives worldwide. Among the major players in this grisly drama are the frontline responders, the health care workers who tend to the sick and dying.

While they are putting their lives on the line to save others, Tedros says health workers are not getting the support they need to keep them safe.

"In some countries there are reports of up to 10% of health workers being infected. This is an alarming trend. When health workers are at risk, we are all at risk," he said.

Tedros said some health workers become infected outside health facilities, in their homes or communities.  But the majority are being infected within health facilities where they are exposed to the deadly virus throughout the day.

Many become sick, he said, because they are not sufficiently trained or lack experience in recognizing COVID-19, and dealing with respiratory pathogens. He added that long hours tending to sick patients and lack of rest also can weaken resistance to the virus.

"However, the evidence also shows that when health workers wear personal protective equipment the right way, infections can be prevented.  That makes it even more important that health workers are able to access the masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) they need to do their jobs safely and effectively," Tedros said.

A new United Nations Supply Chain Task Force has been set up to ease the equipment shortage. Tedros said the WHO and the World Food Program will be coordinating this effort.

He said the supply chain may need to cover more than 30 percent of the world's needs in the acute phase of the pandemic.  To meet this demand, he said, well over 100 million medical gowns and masks, respirators, diagnostic kits and other essential equipment will have to be shipped every month to areas most at risk.

The storing and shipping costs, he said, are about $280 million. He noted the cost of procuring these supplies will be much greater.