Based on the 3.5 million coronavirus-related deaths reported globally to the United Nations health agency, World Health Organisation (WHO), up to May this year; between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from the virus.
Precisely, that is between January, 2020 and May of this year. That grim estimate features in a new WHO working paper a figure that WHO says may well be at least 60 per cent lower than the actual number of victims.
Between January 2020 and May 2021, surveillance data reported to WHO showed 3.45 million deaths due to COVID-19. Of these, only 6643 deaths were identified as being in health and care workers (HCWs).
But this figure significantly under-reports the burden of mortality worldwide in this group. From different analytical approaches, this working paper attempts to estimate the global number of deaths in HCWs due to COVID-19.
Based on the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) estimated number of 135 million HCWs employed in human health and social activities and WHO’s surveillance data on all deaths reported to be due to COVID-19, mixed analytical approaches present a range between 80 000 to 180 000 deaths globally with a central population-based estimate of 115 500 deaths.
These figures, however, largely derived from the 3.45 million COVID-19-related deaths reported to WHO, a number that by itself is proving to be much lower than the actual death toll (60% or more than reported to WHO).
High-quality recording and reporting of infections and deaths among HCWs are fundamental measures to enable appropriate protective steps to be instigated and to support calls for significant investments in integrating occupational data in death certification and surveillance reporting.
In view of the mounting evidence that the number of deaths due to COVID-19 among HCWs is much greater than officially reported, the need for protection through vaccination cannot be overstated.
In countries where vaccination rates of HCWs remain low, tailored communication strategies must be designed and actively pursued to increase uptake and avert vaccination hesitancy. Key messages 2 The impact of COVID-19 on health and care workers: a closer look at deaths.
On January 30, 2020, WHO Director-General declared the outbreak of disease due to a novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern: WHO’s highest level of alarm. For HCWs around the world, the pandemic caused a heightened risk of occupational exposure to a new fast-spreading disease and created the need to adapt roles and responsibilities for a wide range of tasks and professional settings.
Intense global mobilisation of public health and social measures in health facilities and communities followed, alongside the introduction of clinical protocols and individual risk assessment in hospital settings.
The pandemic resulted in many infections and deaths among HCWs and their households; the consequences continue to be measured by a diverse stream of anecdotal evidence and variable quality standards. Undoubtedly, the health and care sector is one of the most severely hit by the pandemic as those employed or contracted in it face multiple hazards that affect their physical, mental and social well-being.
HCWs have been documented to have a higher risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 than the general population. Throughout 2020, WHO Secretariat elaborated a framework to support the standardised measurement and reporting of the multidimensional impact of the pandemic on HCWs, including infection, death and mental health disorders but also the consequences of labour strikes and protests.
To highlight the need for better protection, WHO was joined by global partners working to end the pandemic, to issue an urgent call for concrete action on behalf of workers in the sector.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated that “
WHO and partners said that apart from huge concern over deaths, an increasing proportion of the workforce continue to suffer from burnout, stress, anxiety and fatigue. They are calling on leaders and policymakers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritized.
By the end of last month, on average, two in five of these workers are fully vaccinated, but with a considerable difference across regions.
“In Africa, less than one in ten health workers have been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, in most high-income countries, more than 80% of health workers are fully vaccinated“, Tedros informed.
For him, more than 10 months since the first vaccines were approved, “the fact that millions of health workers still haven’t been vaccinated is an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
In 10 days’ time, the leaders of the G20 leading industrialized nations will meet. Between now and then, roughly 500 million vaccine doses will be produced. That’s the number needed to achieve the target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population of every country, by the end of the year.
Currently, 82 nations are at risk of missing that target. For about 75 per cent of those countries, it’s a problem of insufficient supply. The others have some limitations that WHO is helping solve.
Speaking to journalists via videolink,
These nations have pledged to donate more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses to COVAX. According to WHO, so far, only 150 million have been delivered. With wealthy countries stockpiling millions of unused doses, close to expire, Brown said they should start an “immediate, massive, concerted” airlift of vaccines to low-income countries.
If they don’t do it, Brown argued, they will be guilty of an “economic dereliction of duty that will shame us all.”
Brown also warned that “the longer vaccine inequity exists, the longer the virus will be present.”
Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and Heidi Stensmyren, President of the World Medical Association (WMA), also spoke to journalists at the WHO weekly COVID-19 briefing.