COVID may have killed up to 180,000 healthcare workers: WHO

Matt Woodley

22/10/2021 3:06:38 PM

The estimate comes as Australia prepares to ease restrictions in the coming weeks and months, likely leading to an increase in cases.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said says ‘it’s essential that health workers are prioritised for vaccination’. (Image: AAP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is insisting healthcare workers receive global priority for vaccination after releasing a paper that estimates up to 180,000 of the world’s 135 million health staff had been killed by COVID up until May this year.
According to the report, only 6643 COVID deaths have been officially identified as healthcare workers, but the WHO says this figure ‘significantly under-reports’ the worldwide mortality burden in this group.
Instead, researchers from the global health body used a series of different analytical approaches to reach a ‘conservative’ estimate of 80,000–180,000 global healthcare worker deaths in the first 16 months of the pandemic.
In the Western Pacific, Australia’s WHO-designated region, it is estimated that around 1300 healthcare workers died in the reporting period.
The researchers also state that the calculations used to determine the number of healthcare worker deaths were in part derived from the 3.45 million total COVID-19-related deaths reported to the WHO, which itself is ‘proving to be much lower than the actual death toll’.
Speaking to reporters after the paper’s launch, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said while data from 119 countries suggest that an average of two in five healthcare workers are fully vaccinated, there are ‘huge differences’ across regions.
‘In Africa, less than in one in 10 health workers have been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, in most high-income countries, more than 80% of health workers are fully vaccinated,’ he said.
‘The backbone of every health system is its workforce – the people who deliver the services on which we all rely at some point in our lives.
‘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.
‘That’s why it’s essential that health workers are prioritised for vaccination.’
Dr Ghebreyesus also urged countries to improve the monitoring and reporting of infections and deaths among healthcare workers, and ensure that they are appropriately protected and supported, with access to safe working conditions.
Australian GPs have regularly reported difficulty accessing PPE since the early days of the pandemic, and are currently reliant on being in a federally-designated hotspot to access relaxed telehealth rules and protective equipment from the National Medical Stockpile.
Around 80% of Victoria’s healthcare workers infected with COVID-19 during last year’s outbreak contracted the disease at work, yet newsGP polling suggests the vast majority of GPs still do not have access to fit-tested N95 masks – despite patients regularly flouting triage rules.
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