Nurses and midwives across the country have asked government to provide personal protective gears (PPEs) and other equipment to enable them perform their duties during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They also want specialised training on the management of Covid-19 cases, saying they have been left out of the taskforce process right from the planning stage to execution, yet they are the first points of contact with patients.
An assessment survey done between March and April 2020, led by Ms Elizabeth G M Pearson, the founding chairperson of the National Healthcare Conferences (NHCC) Uganda, and Dr Rose Clarke Nanyonga, the vice chancellor of Clarke International University (CIU) Kampala, showed that nurses and midwives across the country are ill-equipped to handle the Covid-19 pandemic and that more must be done to improve the situation.
The survey findings indicate that only 19.4 per cent have access to adequate personal protection equipment while the majority 75 per cent have no access to adequate supply of PPEs. Sixty nine per cent said that lack of PPEs had hindered their ability to work while 22.6 per cent reported that they are not working due to inadequate PPEs.
The survey also showed that by April 7, majority of nurses and midwives had not been tested for Covid-19 with 48.6 per cent reporting that they were actively attending to patients.
The report says out of 35 respondents, only three participants (9.1 per cent) reported that they felt they were prepared to provide healthcare to a patient with known or suspected Covid-19 while 17.1 per cent of the participants reported having received training in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC), which was organised by their employers.
Mr Justus Cherop Kiplangat, the president of Uganda Nurses and Midwives Association, said without this category of health workers on the frontline, Uganda will fail in its efforts to combat the pandemic.
He said government should speed up extensive testing in line with the World Health Organisation appeal and procure large quantities of rapid testing kits. Mr Kiplangat said priority testing should be given to healthcare workers and individuals who show signs of infection, followed up by the rigorous tracing of other potentially infected people.
“PPE equipment in large amounts must be procured or even produced in Uganda and immediately distributed to healthcare centres around the country – including suitable masks, face visors, gloves, gowns, and hand sanitisers. 100 per cent occupational sick pay should be provided from day one for any Covid-19 infected healthcare worker until that worker is healthy and back at work,” Mr Kiplangat.
He said financial support should also be provided to the health workers to ensure their children are taken care of while the parents are at work, besides support should be provided to ensure they can travel safely to and from workplaces.
According to him, dry ration should be given to the health workers who are attending to the Covid-19 patients, especially those at Entebbe Grade B Hospital and Mulago National Referral Hospital since they are not allowed to move out.
Mr Alex Tumusiime, the president of Association of Graduate Nurses and Midwives of Uganda, said Covid-19 has presented an additional public health burden to the nurses and midwives.
“We therefore appeal to government and the Ministry of Health to strengthen measures for the prevention of the spread of coronavirus at all levels through the provision of PPEs, provide transportation to nurses and midwives, and involve nurses and midwives in decision making on matters that directly affect them,” he said.
“We also want government to extend training about the prevention and management of coronavirus to all healthcare workers ,” Mr Tumusiime added.
Government has received large quantities of donations of PPEs in recent times. Health ministry officials were unavailable for a response on whether they will meet the demands. Previously, the Ministry of Health had tasked health workers who are not working on Covid-19 patients to purchase their own PPEs, something that drew condemnation from doctors and the public.
Inconvenience. The national lockdown and the ban on public and private transport affected the nurses and midwives who normally work in shifts and are not all accommodated at hospitals. “The majority of the healthcare workers are left to take care of themselves including risking their lives as they walk to and from work. The most affected are the nurses and midwives whose low pay cannot afford them to buy even a bicycle. Yet those who are effecting the President’s directive do not consider their challenges,” Mr Tumusiime said.