Health and Fitness

WHO says up to 180,000 health care workers globally have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began

The number of health care workers worldwide who died of COVID-19 during the pandemic may be up to 27 times higher than official counts, a new report finds.

Only 6,643 of global virus-related fatalities have been linked to doctors, nurses and other medical employees.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the actual death toll through May 2021 is likely between 80,000 and 180,000 due to the wide vaccination rate disparity between rich and poor nations.

It comes as the UN health agency called on countries to do more to protect the mental health of frontline workers, who are suffering from high rates of burnout stress and anxiety. 

Of the 3.45 million Covid deaths around the world reported to the WHO between January 2020 and May 2021, 6,643 were identified as health care workers. The WHO said it believes this is an undercount because the true worldwide death toll is likely 60% lower than official counts. Pictured: Health care workers attend to a patient with COVID-19a t Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California, September 2021

A recent WHO report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health care workers were killed by COVID-19 with a median estimate of 115,000 (above)

A recent WHO report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health care workers were killed by COVID-19 with a median estimate of 115,000 (above)

During a press briefing on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that two out of five health care workers around the globe are vaccinated.

However, there is a wide gap seen when wealthier nations are compared with poorer countries, he explained.

In high-income countries, more than eight in 10 medical workers are vaccinated. By comparison, fewer than one in 10 workers in Africa are vaccinated.  

‘The backbone of every health system is its workforce – the people who deliver the services on which we rely at some point in our lives,’ Tedros told reporters. 

‘The pandemic is a powerful demonstration of just how much we rely on health workers and how vulnerable we all are when the people who protect our health are themselves unprotected.’ 

According a recent working paper from the WHO, 6,643 of 3.45 million Covid deaths around the world between January 2020 and May 2021 were identified to be healthcare workers.

However, the report says the global death toll is likely 60 percent higher, meaning so is the total number of  COVID-19 deaths among health care workers.

The WHO estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health care workers died of the virus through May 2021 with a median estimate of 115,000.

Officials say many Western countries have stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccine doses, many of which are due to expire.

The WHO is urging leaders around the world to adjust their contracts with vaccine manufacturers so they can send their excess shots to poor countries.

Tedros also called for a global moratorium booster shots until more healthcare workers receive at least an initial dose.

He said that high- and upper-income countries have administered half as many booster shots as the total number of doses administered in low income countries.

‘More than 10 months since the first vaccines were approved, the fact that millions of health care workers still haven’t been vaccinated is an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines,’ Tedros said.

The WHO is also calling on countries to address the burnout and stress that health care workers are facing from staffing shortages and virus surges, forcing to work long hours and take on several patients at a time.  

‘It is imperative that health and care workers must get adequate protection to be able to do their jobs safely,’ the agency said in statement.

‘Further, they need employment opportunities, regular salaries, gender and pay equity, quality education, continuing professional development, career opportunities, social protection and effective recognition of their rights.’


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