The number of health workers being infected with coronavirus is on rise.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population, as many as 600 health workers across the country have tested positive of the respiratory contagion till September 23. Health workers infected with the virus include doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and paramedics. Not only the health workers at health facilities have tested positive for the virus but the health staffers deployed at quarantine centres have also tested positive for the disease.

Cases of health staffers being infected with the virus has been reported from Rupandehi, Surkhet, Banke, Morang, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Nawalparasi East, Chitwan, Siraha, Saptari, Bajura, Accham, Kailali, Kavrepalanchowk, Bara, Parvat, Tanahu, Parsa, Sunsari, Dhanusha, Jumla, Dharan, Baitadi, Birgunj and other districts.

Health workers serving in more than 65 health facilities including Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Bir Hospital, Shree Birendra Hospital, Nepal Police Hospital, BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, HAMS Hospital and Kathmandu Medical College have been tested positive for the virus.

“Poor infrastructures, lack of information of the COVID patients and not maintaining proper social distancing are some of the reasons for health workers to contract the virus,” said Samir Kumar Adhikari, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population.

“Laboratory technicians involved in sample collection have also been infected. Our health facilities are not well equipped and maintained to prevent health workers from getting infected,” said Assistant Spokesperson Adhikari.

There are high chances for health workers to get infected at hospitals other than at COVID-19 designated hospitals as normal hospitals have a mix of COVID and non-COVID patients,” said Anup Bastola, chief consultant tropical medicine at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku. To improve health safety, World Health Organisation has reminded the governments that they develop linkage between occupational health and safety, patient safety, quality improvement and infection prevention and control programmes.

“Detection of coronavirus in health workers will affect the treatment of patients. Therefore, hospitals have to dispense only a limited number of staffers without affecting treatment of patients. When one health worker gets infected other staffers too need to stay in quarantine,” said Bastola.

“When health workers are infected there are high chances for them to transmit the infection to others. They can transmit the infection to their family members and those in contact with them,” Bastola added.

According to WHO, protecting health workers is key to ensuring a functioning health system and a functioning society. “A health worker should be trained in infection prevention and control, should have knowledge about donning personal protective equipment and there must be a solid infection prevention and control mechanism at hospitals,” suggested Bastola.

Health practitioners avoid crowded places they might contract or transmit the infection.

“Patients need us as infection is likely to spread in coming days,” said Bastola.

“A health worker must maintain social distance from his/her colleague,” said Assistant Spokesperson Adhikari. WHO has recommended the governments to ensure availability of PPE at all times for health workers.

A version of this article appears in print on September 26, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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