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77 Nigerian health workers infected with COVID-19, Lassa fever

9 doctors, 1 nurse dead Why they’re falling victims Tales of woe by caregivers Experts want hazard allowance, life insurance for medics Over 40 health…

  • 9 doctors, 1 nurse dead
  • Why they’re falling victims
  • Tales of woe by caregivers
  • Experts want hazard allowance, life insurance for medics

Over 40 health workers have tested positive to COVID-19 in Nigeria, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said this yesterday.

He made the disclosure during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, in Abuja.

As part of precautionary measures, the minister directed health workers to be watchful when treating any patient.

“This warning has become necessary due to the number of health workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. They are over 40 now,” he said.

“Apart from the over 40 health workers, there are others who have been quarantined in the last two weeks due to exposure and have not been able to contribute to efforts of the health sector,” the minister said.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire applauded health workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying government would continue to provide them with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Frontline health workers must undertake refresher courses on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) at intervals… Remain vigilant in the line of duty and maintain a high index of suspicion for COVID-19,”he said. Sources said most of the COVID-19 positive cases among the medical practitioners were recorded in private hospitals. It was learnt that no fewer than 17 hospitals in Lagos State admitted that their personnel were exposed to the dreaded coronavirus while attending to patients.

Speaking to Daily Trust yesterday, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, said four health workers died as a result of COVID-19.

Other sources said that the number of frontline health workers getting sick from COVID-19 is on the increase considering the pressure on health facilities amid scarcity of protective equipment.

Elsewhere, a situation report by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that 37 health workers have been affected by Lassa fever this year.

Among them, six doctors have lost their lives to Lassa fever this year alone, according to the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

Credible sources said laboratory scientists and technicians, nurses, pharmacists, hygienists and other health workers have taken ill and some of them lost their lives in the line of duty.

“Medical personnel are unsung heroes,” a nurse in Abuja, said.

“And our travails are hardly made public because it will give a negative perception and would also have a negative effect on the society because people would not go to hospitals if they learnt doctors or nurses are dying from the same disease,” the nurse said.

Daily Trust reports that there are 31 deaths from 981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in 27 states and the Federal Capital Territory as at April 23.

Also, the Lassa fever outbreak has since the beginning of this year claimed 188 lives, with 4,386 suspected cases out of which 973 have been confirmed in 27 states.

Why medics are falling victims

Experts told the Daily Trust that health workers at hospitals and designated treatment centres across the country are being infected and dying from diseases as a result of lack of PPE.

PPE including garments, helmets, goggles, gloves and other equipment are being worn to minimise exposure to diseases and other hazards.

Some of the equipment are in short supply in Nigeria, exposing health workers in both government and private health care centres to danger of contracting communicable diseases.

The President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, (NARD), Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, said to protect the health and lives of health workers as well as improve their welfare, government should provide enough PPE for them, review their hazard allowance and provide life insurance for them.

He said health workers were not only exposed to Lassa fever and COVID-19, but other diseases such as hepatitis, TB and HIV among others.

He said: “Health workers across Nigeria should be provided with PPE. Emphasis is always placed on COVID-19 treatment centres; COVID-19 doesn’t affect people in treatment centres as much as it affects people at referral centres because the patients don’t just find themselves in the treatment centres.

“They first of all go to the referral hospitals where they are seen and evaluated. Once they are found to be positive, they are transferred to the treatment and isolated centres. So, those people that have done the initial evaluation are exposed and that is what happened to health workers at hospitals in Ilorin, Benin and Lagos,” he said.

“Secondly the hazard allowance of N5, 000 paid to all health care workers in the country is too small. It is so insignificant that it cannot even buy the drug, ribavirin which is used in the treatment of Lassa fever in case a health worker is infected with it. Government should pay enough hazard allowance or forget it,” he added.

NMA President Faduyile also said that many doctors have complained of unavailability PPE.

He frowned that the available PPEs were concentrated at COVID-19 isolation centres leaving other hospitals exposed to the danger.

“It is not supposed to be at only the isolation centres because people keep going to hospitals and doctors attend to them and some of these cases may be COVID-19 cases,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Human Virology, (IHVN) Nigeria, Dr. Patrick Dakum, said that health care workers required PPEs such as N95 masks, gloves, gowns, and eye shields among others. “This should be in adequate quantity so they don’t reuse disposable PPEs,” he said.

However, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha who is leading the FGs effort in converting the pandemic, said life insurance for health workers is being planned considering the danger they are exposed to during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“The government is working with other stakeholders to structure medical and life insurance cover for their protection.

“I, therefore, wish to assure them of our commitment and urge them to put in their utmost best as they battle to save us from this ravaging disease,” he said.

President Muhammadu Buhari participates in the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on the impact of COVID-19 in the region, via video conference, in Abuja yesterday
President Muhammadu Buhari participates in the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on the impact of COVID-19 in the region, via video conference, in Abuja yesterday

Not the best of times for health workers

The Guild of Medical Directors (GMD), an association of owners of private medical facilities, said it has lost three of its members to COVID-19 in the last few weeks.

They are Dr. Aliyu Yakubu, proprietor of Daura Clinics and Medical Centre in Katsina State; Dr. Dominic Essien of San Dominic Hospital in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; and Dr. Emeka Chugbo, a renowned obstetrician who died recently in Lagos.

In a statement signed by their president, Professor Femi Babalola, the guild said some patients were asymptomatic when they presented themselves at health facilities and that the doctors treated them unknowingly before they tested positive to COVID-19.

Citing Dr. Chugbo for instance, the guild said he was an obstetrician who carried out a caesarean section on a COVID-19 patient.

“The patient in question did not display any signs or symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. She only presented herself to Dr. Chugbo as a pregnant patient in distressed labour. The facts of her infection only became known after the surgery was carried out at which point the infection had been passed to our demised colleague.

“Unfortunately, many of them (patients) will be asymptomatic carriers of the disease  but usually before a patient can be identified as a COVID-19 suspect, some interaction would inevitably have occurred with such patients in the form of history taking and examination,” the guild said.

The guild lamented that some patients hide their travel history and that there was always a time lag between the time of suspicion and the time when the NCDC officials do necessary checks to confirm the COVID-19 status of their patients.

“No doctor would knowingly expose himself to any contagious disease without appropriate protective facilities. It is very unfair to the memory of our demised colleagues to suggest otherwise,” it said.

The guild, therefore, called on the federal government to support them with PPEs saying private hospitals accounted for about 70% of consultations in the country.

Tales of woe in health centres

A doctor who works in a public hospital in Abuja, and craves anonymity, said he and his colleagues work with fear during the COVID-19 outbreak because they don’t have enough protection kits, adding that those who may turn up for emergencies maybe COVID-19 patients or carriers of other infectious diseases like Lassa fever.

A health worker who works in the laboratory of a public hospital also got infected with COVID-19 recently because he works without enough PPE. He, in turn, infected another member of his family, he said.

It was learnt that the COVID-19 testing centre in Kano, which started operation few days ago was abruptly shut down for “fumigation” after some staff working in the facilities got exposed to the coronavirus.

But a radiographer working at the isolation centre treating COVID-19 patients at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Gwagwalada, Isaac Uduagh, said health workers have enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) at the centre.

He, however, said because the PPEs are disposal items, more are needed so as not to run out of stock.

Uduagh who is also a member of the Medical Imaging Society of Nigeria (MISON), said while there were enough PPEs at the centre, the same could not be said of hospitals either public or private across the country.

He said the work of radiographers against COVID-19 included doing X-rays and other forms of imaging to assess damages done to the lungs and how it made people cough and develop to pneumonia, among others. He also called for improvement in hazard allowances for health workers.

A nurse at the same centre who craves anonymity, narrated that two of their colleagues fell ill recently while tending to COVID-19 patients.

“We became afraid that they had contracted the virus. We sent people to the Federal Ministry of Health to inform them but no one came to see us until when the samples of the staff taken for tests came out negative for COVID-19,” the nurse said.

The nurse said health workers at the centre work for close to 22 hours a day under pressure without any life insurance coverage or allowance and incentives paid to them.

Dzuana Vanen Philip, a medical doctor, lost his life to Lassa fever in the first week of this month. The young doctor was working with the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi before his demise.

The Benue born medic is one of the frontline health workers who have lost their lives to Lassa fever since the first case of the disease was recorded in the country in 1969.

Earlier in the year, two doctors at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) Kano, Dr. Ummu Kulthum and Habeeb Musa Muhammad, lost their lives to Lassa fever.

Another doctor with the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, University Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH), Dr. Mansur Galadima, also lost his life to the disease.

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