Uganda Medical Association-UMA is blaming the high number of COVID-19 infections among health workers to the low quality of Personal Protective Equipment-PPE distributed by the government to health facilities and high fatigue levels. Over 1500 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 others succumbed to the pandemic as of December 6th, 2020.
Earlier on the Health Ministry had pointed at the community as the source of COVID-19 infections among health workers. However, Uganda Medical Association says the medical workers are being exposed to the virus by poor quality PPE and high fatigue levels.
They argued that the masks that the government provides and some of the medical gowns are of low quality. For instance, they say some of the gowns provided come with goggles that do not fit properly while others cannot close properly and open even when they are secured with masking tape.
Dr. Muhereza Mukuzi, the UMA secretary-general told journalists on Tuesday that they have received several complaints of substandard PPEs supplied by the government. “We have visited all our branches in the country and we have been told that the PPE is fake. Some of the masks when you look at them are not N95, which is recommended for health workers. Their material and quality look fake. And this gives health workers a fake sense of protection,” he said.
Dr. Henry Kajunbula, a public health specialist and member of the COVID-19 Scientific committee, says that the country is facing a challenge of protecting health workers amidst procurement of poor quality PPE.
“One of the challenges that have been encountered in COVID-19 treatment units has been the quality of PPE. Sometimes this is not just a local challenge but a global one where different manufacturers have come up to provide these things. We also face a challenge of ascertaining the quality of some of these products,” he said.
The doctors say the sporadic supply of PPE also leaves them open to infections. Dr. Frank Assimwe, a surgeon at Mulago National Referral hospital, one of the COVID-19 treatment facilities, says health workers are falsely protecting themselves.
In addition to poor quality PPE, doctors say the health workers are being overworked, something which is exposing them to infections. Dr. Robert Lubega, the deputy secretary-general of UMA, says that many health workers are working without rest. He says this is exposing them to infections because they are often tired and make avoidable mistakes.
“Health workers were supposed to work for five hours every shift. These shifts are supposed to be rotated. But now they are working for 24 hours, yet the numbers have increased. Many are tired and due to this, they are likely to make mistakes when wearing gloves or even when gowning. Spending 24 hours in a treatment facility is not good,” he said.
As of today, over 25,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported. Over 9,000 patients are receiving treatment. Dr. Kajumbula says the number of health workers employed to manage COVID-19 cases needs to be increased.
Rose Wakikona, a senior programme officer at the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development-CEHURD says that the government should be ashamed of the way it has treated health workers during this pandemic. She says their rights as health workers have been abused due to government’s failure to provide adequate PPE in time for all health workers.
UMA now wants the government to hire more health workers. They also want the government to clear the allowances and salaries and risk allowances of all health workers. The doctors say the government’s failure to pay the salaries and risk allowances of health workers has worsened their working conditions.
Dr. Richard Idro, the UMA president says the irregular payment of the salaries and allowances of health workers made the working conditions intolerable. “Health workers in treatment units have not been paid their salary for more than three months. They have not received their risk allowances for longer. Such working conditions are difficult to work under. Health workers are stressed,” he said.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health says that the government is working towards addressing the grievances of the health workers. “We have not had money to pay their salaries and allowances but the ministry of finance has released funds and we shall be paying all the affected health workers,” she said. According to the Health Ministry, the country has procured majority of its PPE from China.
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