Many South African healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, feel highly stressed and at risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus and spreading it to their families. Picture: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Many South African healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, feel highly stressed and at risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus and spreading it to their families. Picture: Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

SA's frontline workers fear contracting Covid-19 - report

By Lyse Comins Time of article published Aug 7, 2020

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Durban - Many South African healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, feel highly stressed and at risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus and spreading it to their families.

Healthcare workers also feel that they lack sufficient training and are concerned about access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

These are some of the findings of a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) study in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, titled “Front line talk: A national survey of South African healthcare workers’ response to Covid-19”.

Professor Priscilla Reddy, strategic lead: health and well-being, human and social capabilities at the HSRC, said when the study was conducted between April 11 and May 7, 90000 health-care workers had been infected and 600 had died of the virus globally.

The national Department of Health’s August 2 statistics showed that 24000 South African health-care workers had been diagnosed with Covid-19 and 181 deaths recorded.

Professor Mosa Moshabela, UKZN dean and head of school, nursing and public health, said 7607 health-care workers in nine provinces working in the public and private sector, including nurses, medical practitioners and other health professionals such as pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and radiographers, had participated in the survey.

The study focused on the levels of knowledge; sources of information; training; perception of risk; risk factors; need for PPE and health and well-being of health-care workers. Three quarters of health professionals felt that their occupation placed them at higher risk, while a third of health professionals felt that their work environment placed them at greater risk.

“Two-thirds felt that the general population are not following the transmission guidelines and therefore put health professionals at risk. Over half of health professionals felt they did not have adequate PPE which put them at risk,” the study said.

More than two-thirds of participants expressed the need for all forms of PPE, while overall confidence in the correct use of PPE was low.

“One in two health professionals were confident in their personal ability in the correct use of PPE including donning and doffing. Health professionals indicated their lack of confidence in the availability and accessibility of PPE. Self-perceived risk of contracting Covid-19 was high when confidence in the correct use of PPE was low,” the study showed.

Other findings included:

Two in five participants did not know the correct Covid-19 incubation period.

Three in four of all professional categories correctly identified contact with contaminated surfaces as a mode of transmission.

Two in five of all professional categories incorrectly identified Covid-19 as being airborne.

About two-thirds of health professionals received some form of Covid-19 related training.

Only 1 in 2 were trained in treatment guidelines and 1 in 4 in declaring patients as recovered.

There was a large difference between training received by medical practitioners compared with nurses, on treatment guidelines, case definitions as well as tests that should be done to confirm diagnosis.

Moshabela said in the survey, 85% of health-care professionals had correctly identified the symptoms of the virus as a cough, sore throat and fever even at the outset of the pandemic which indicated the level of preparedness. However, while half of the health-care professionals were confident on their knowledge about Covid-19 at the time, 23.7% of nurses were not confident of their knowledge regarding the virus.

Moshabela said a key finding was the high usage of social media and news websites as a source of information for some health-care professionals although most obtained knowledge from the National Department of Health, scientific journals, the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control.

Health practitioners’ risk perception of contracting the virus was lowest in Gauteng and the Western Cape, while North West and Free State provinces had the highest risk perception.

Moshabela said the study showed at least two in five nurses were “very concerned” about contracting the virus and spreading it to their families.

“Nursing professionals had the highest risk perception followed by medical professionals and other health-care professions. We cannot say that it is not related to the fact they received limited attention in terms of training compared to medical practitioners,” he said.

Health Professions Council of SA president Kgosi Letlape said he was concerned about the lower risk perceptions among doctors and the appropriate use of PPE. “My concern as a doctor is the cavalier attitude of medical practitioners - are they taking it too lightly? Are they taking it home? In Gauteng we buried nine colleagues last week, doctors are not wearing masks and we get behaviour like where we think we are invincible. There is no social distancing among health-care workers,” he said.

Durban University of Technology health sciences dean Professor Nokuthula Sibiya said there was a need to “double if not triple” the number of health-care workers produced at training institutions.

Veronica Taschl, national department of health director of nursing stakeholders, said the study confirmed existing knowledge.

“These are not things we have not known before but it has shown us up in a poor light. We should beef up our in-service training and other training that nurses receive,” she said.

The Mercury

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