Half of health professionals worried about inadequate PPE

A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman for a COVID-19 coronavirus PCR test in the Mahaboudha area in Kathmandu on July 28, 2020. (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP)

Three in five nurse practitioners were concerned about passing infection to family members, and only half were confident in their knowledge about the disease

Half of health professionals felt they did not have adequate Personal Protective Equipment, according to a survey by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.

More frightening though, is that the survey found that nearly half of respondents didn’t know the incubation period of the disease, or its method of transmission.

The survey,  which looked at the impact of Covid-19 on health workers, was conducted from April 11, 2020, to May 7, 2020 and aimed to ascertain the impact of the pandemic on the country’s health workers both physically and emotionally.

The survey which reached at least 7 607 respondents, has medical experts saying sources of information remain pivotal in remaining at an advantage against the pandemic.

Professor Khangelani Zuma who coordinated a webinar on the findings on Thursday elaborated on surveys put forward by the Human Science Research Council.

In the presentation, it was highlighted that health professionals indicated their lack of confidence in the availability and accessibility of personal protective equipment (PPE). This led to a perceived risk remaining high and confidence in the correct use of PPE remaining low.

Globally, more than 90 000 healthcare workers are thought to be infected with Covid-19 with more than 600 deaths recorded.

According to the Department of Health, at least 24 000 health workers have tested positive with more than 100 losing their lives.

“Due to the impact of the virus on frontline workers, HSRC and UKZN conducted ‘Front line talk’: A national survey of South African health care workers’ response to Covid-19, which reached at least 7607 health care workers over the age of 18 years in all nine provinces of South Africa.”

The survey looked at some of the following issues:

· Training received to respond to Covid-19
· Levels of knowledge, awareness and attitudes to Covid-19
· The use and access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the workplace
· Perceptions of risk in the workplace
· Concerns in relation to Covid-19
· Health and psychosocial wellbeing of the respondent

A total of 7 607 healthcare professionals participated in the survey, four in five participants were female, three in five were black African, three, of five participants came from urban formal areas, with half of the participants coming from most affected provinces Gauteng Western Cape KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.


About two in five participants did not know the correct Covid-19 incubation period, three in four health professionals categorically identified contact with contaminated surfaces as a mode of transmission, with two in five incorrectly identifying Covid-19 as being airborne.

Overall half of the healthcare professionals were confident on their knowledge about the pandemic.

Two-thirds of health professionals received some form of Covid-19 training, with only one in two trained in treatment guidelines and one in four in declaring patients as recovered.

“There remained a large difference in training received between medical verses nurse practitioners on treatment guidelines.

Perception of Risk
There was risk perception which remained very low in Gauteng and Western Cape.

“These are the provinces with the highest proportions of health professionals who work in urban formal settings. i.e. 84% of Gauteng participants worked in urban formal areas, 78% of WC participants worked in urban formal areas.

· Risk perception is highest in North West and Free State.

Risk Factors
· Three-quarters of health professionals felt that their occupation placed them at higher risk.
· A third of health professionals felt that where they worked put them at greater risk.
· Two-thirds felt that the general population are not following the transmission guidelines and therefore putting health professionals at risk and over half of health professionals felt they did not have adequate PPE, which placed them at risk.

Fear of underlying health conditions which may place some health workers at risk remained some of the concerns.

Overall, over two-thirds of participants expressed the need for all forms of PPE, signalling that overall confidence in the use of PPE was low.

Other findings were:

· The level of concern for health and wellbeing was significantly different by profession.
· Nearly half of nursing practitioners were extremely concerned about family members and personal health.
· Two in five health professionals have extreme concern for their family’s wellbeing, whilst one in five health professionals have extreme concern for their own personal wellbeing.

Nurses reported the lowest general health and wellbeing compared to medical practitioners and other health care professionals.

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