The Covid-19 pandemic has killed an estimated 80,000 to 180,000 healthcare workers from January 2020 till May this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The estimates are derived from a new WHO working paper based on the 3.45 million Covid-19 related deaths reported to WHO as at May 2021.
“The backbone of every health system is its workforce. Covid-19 is a powerful demonstration of just how much we rely on these men and women, and how vulnerable we all are when the people who protect our health are themselves unprotected,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the WHO weekly Covid-19 briefing on Thursday.
Available data from 119 countries, in the working paper, suggest that by September 2021, two in five healthcare workers were fully vaccinated on average, with considerable difference across regions and economic groupings.
Less than one in 10 have been fully vaccinated in the African and Western Pacific regions while 22 mostly high-income countries reported that above 80 per cent of their healthcare workers are fully vaccinated.
A few large high-income countries have not yet reported data to WHO.
“We have a moral obligation to protect all health and care workers, ensure their rights and provide them with decent work in a safe and enabling practice environment. This must include access to vaccines,” said Jim Campbell, Director of the WHO Health Workforce Department, in a statement.
Besides the death of healthcare workers, the WHO is also concerned that an increasing proportion of the workforce are suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety and fatigue.
The global health body has called on leaders and policy makers to ensure equitable access to vaccines so that health and care workers are prioritised.
Tedros noted that more than 10 months since the first vaccines were approved, “the fact that millions of health workers still haven’t been vaccinated is an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines”.
Further, the WHO stated that the Covid-19 pandemic will drag on until 2022, much longer than it needs to, because several poor countries have not received vaccines against the deadly infectious disease.
It would be a “moral catastrophe of historic proportions” if G20 countries cannot act quickly, said Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and currently WHO’s Ambassador for Global Health Financing.
These nations have pledged to donate more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses to COVAX.
According to the WHO, so far, only 150 million have been delivered.
Moreover, just one in seven of the doses promised by pharmaceutical companies and wealthy countries are actually reaching their destinations in poorer countries, new figures from The People’s Vaccine — an alliance of charities, have suggested.
The vast majority of Covid vaccines have been given in high-income or upper middle-income countries.
Africa accounts for just 2.6 per cent of doses administered globally.