Around 3.5 million healthcare workers in the Eastern Mediterranean region were directly or indirectly engaged in the COVID-19 response, which has brought to light the massive risks they face, according to Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Director of the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO EMRO).
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Al-Mandhari stressed WHO’s call to ensure those workers’ well-being, safety, and protection, as they were the most threatened group to get affected, since they were fighting at the frontlines against the pandemic.
“In our region, the proportion of infected healthcare workers varies from 1% to 20%. However, there is no systematic reporting of healthcare worker infections to WHO. We believe the number under-represents COVID-19 infections among health workers,” said Al-Mandhari.
He further noted that the WHO’s data indicates that more than 90% of healthcare workers in the region become infected with COVID-19 within health facilities where they are exposed to the virus.
The average age of health workers infected is 35, with infections reported more among females.
Moreover, high numbers of attacks against healthcare workers have been reported over the past five years, according to the WHO EMRO director.
Al-Mandhari explained, “In some cases, health workers are faced with stigma and discrimination as they are accused of being carriers of COVID-19, and are subjected to physical and psychological violence along with the already increased workloads and highly stressful working environment.”
To address the different challenges facing health workers, Al-Mandhari said the WHO has developed regional guidance identifying strategic actions for policy-makers and managers at the national, sub-national, and facility levels.