ZAMBIA Medical Association (ZMA) president Dr Samson Chisele says the number of medical personnel that have been testing positive for COVID-19 is worrying.

And Human Rights Commission spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya has called for enhanced protection of COVID-19 frontline health staff and payment of risk allowances to them.

So far, nine frontline health staff – four at Chilenje Level One Hospital, among them a medical doctor, and five at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital – have tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently quarantined in the health facilities.

In an interview, Dr Chisele urged the government to provide appropriate personal equipment for all the health workers in the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 in the country.

He also called on the government to adhere to the presidential directive that health workers are paid incentives to mitigate some of these risks faced in the fight against Coronavirus.

“As an association, we stand by the frontline healthcare workers who are battling with the COVID-19 challenge. We wish the health workers who have been infected in the line of duty a quickest recovery. We would like to urge government to continue to provide appropriate personal [protective] equipment for all our health workers, particularly those in the frontline and also encourage our health workers to wear appropriate personal protective equipment at all times,” Dr Chisele said.

“…we also wish to remind government to also quickly implement the presidential directive on incentives for healthcare workers in order to mitigate some of these risks, including infections among health workers we are now witnessing. These cases are worrying. We do hope that we don’t have anymore health workers getting infected in the line of duty. These are worrying us and we do hope that this situation does not go beyond what we already have.”

He called on the government to quickly complete the engagement of heath personnel to help reduce the burden of the health workers.

“I think as things stand now, government is in the process of employing those 3,000 health workers. Those 3,000 health workers have yet to commence their duties and I think that once they have started, we can make an assessment as to whether we should be needing more but definitely, we need those that are being employed now to quickly join the fight so that we are able to have less shifts so to speak and avoid perhaps people working longer hours…The process…is underway to employ those 3,000 paramedics and 400 medical doctors so hopefully, they can take their positions sooner rather than later,” said Dr Chisele.

And Muleya stated that the increasing number of medical personnel contracting COVID-19 during the course of duty was a reflection of inadequacies in their protection in a highly unsafe working environment.

“The Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned at the increasing number of health workers testing positive for Coronavirus and calls for their enhanced protection and also consider payment of risk allowance as they risk their lives to save lives….The need to prioritize the protection of health workers from contracting COVID-19 is not only for their own health safety, but that of their own families and the patients they care for,” Muleya stated.

“The Commission has been monitoring measures aimed at preventing and controlling the spread of Coronavirus and has found that some health workers lack adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, face shields, eye goggles, surgical gowns, plastic aprons and boots. To this effect, the Commission supports the government pronouncement to provide adequate PPE at all levels of healthcare, particularly to frontline health workers such as in casualty, emergency admission wards and outpatient departments. The provision of PPE should be supported by adequate and continuous training of health personnel in the prevention of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 during their course of work.”

He stated that it was clear from the increasing numbers of positive cases of health personal that the current measures were inadequate.

“Further, the commission calls for mandatory testing for COVID-19 of all patients that are admitted for any illness, particularly in high risk districts to prevent health workers from contracting the virus from patients who may not be exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. This could be possible since the number of admitted patients have drastically reduced as one of the positive measures the government has put in place during the fight against COVID-19,” stated Muleya.

“During the monitoring exercise, the commission has observed positive measures aimed at decongesting health facilities such as banning visiting hours, downsizing or closing outpatient clinics, limiting elective surgical procedure to only emergencies such as cancer, reporting for work on a rotational basis of health staff in terms of daily clinical activities and reduction of hours spent on the wards. However, it is clear from the increasing number of health workers testing positive for Coronavirus that such commendable measures are inadequate and there is need for serious and urgent review of the working environment of health workers.”