October 28, 2021

WHO Urges Better Protection of Health Workers from COVID, Burnout

Governments and stakeholders must take action to better protect health and care workers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization urges in a new statement (PDF) issued jointly with partners including the International Labor Organization. The statement outlines the organizations’ concerns related to health and care worker illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19 as well as growing numbers of these workers affected by health issues such as burnout, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. A WHO working paper published in September estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers could have died globally from COVID-19 from January 2020 to May 2021. And health and care workers’ exposure to heavy workloads, long working hours, and human suffering and death have led to increased levels of anxiety, distress, fatigue, and occupational burnout among these workers, the joint statement says. Heightened stigmatization of health and care workers and increased physical and psychological violence against them are additional concerns highlighted by WHO and its partners.

The joint statement urges governments, leaders, and policymakers to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of COVID-19 infections, illness, and deaths among health and care workers. Stakeholders should also make regulatory, policy, and investment decisions to protect health and care workers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations state.

The joint statement also asks leaders and policymakers to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination among health and care workers in all countries. WHO and its partners describe a “considerable difference across regions and economic groupings” regarding health and care workers’ access to vaccines. Data reported to WHO from 119 countries indicate that while an average of two in five health and care workers were fully vaccinated by September 2021, that average was fewer than one in 10 among countries in the African region.

“It is imperative that health and care workers must get adequate protection to be able to do their jobs safely,” the statement reads. “The world cannot recover from the COVID-19 pandemic without long-term, sustainable investments in the people who provide care to us.”

More information about the efforts of WHO and its partners is available in a WHO news release.