Between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January of 2020 and May of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
That grim estimate features in a new WHO working paper based on the 3.45 million coronavirus-related deaths reported globally to the UN health agency up to May; a figure that WHO said may well be at least 60 per cent lower than the actual number of victims.
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 “the backbone of every health system is its workforce.”
“COVID-19 is a powerful demonstration of just how much we rely on these men and women, and how vulnerable we all are when the people who protect our health are themselves unprotected”, he added.
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 policy makers 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 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”.