Amnesty International urges Nigerian government to protect health workers in frontline response to COVID- 19 pandemic

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* Says health workers not adequately protected, over 40 health workers tested positive for COVID-19

By Augustine Osayande

Amnesty International (AI) has called on the Nigerian government to ensure that health workers in the frontline of COVID-19 response have access to the protective equipment they need.

The International Human Wright Watch organisation stated this in its message to mark the International Workers’ Day.

The group said brave health workers in the country had been working in difficult conditions, providing health services in the fight against COVID-19.

According to the group, health workers in the country faced the risks of being exposed to the COVID-19, stigmatization, separation from their families and a toll on their mental health.

“Across Nigeria, health workers are facing extremely difficult and unsafe conditions of work, such as shortages of personal protective equipment, dilapidated and overstretched health facilities, unfair remuneration and harassment by security forces

“Health workers have been describing the difficulties they face and the danger they confront to secure the health and lives of Nigerians. What the government must guarantee is their protection. It is unacceptable that they continue to be put at risk,” said Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria.

The group observed that over 40 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria, adding that some health workers interviewed by the organisation raised concerns that health workers across Nigeria were working without adequate protection and in very difficult conditions.

“In the government hospital where I work, there is no running water for health workers to wash their hands. Doctors and nurses have to fetch water in a bowl, which is not sanitary,” a health worker told Amnesty International.

According to another health worker, “Surgical masks are not adequately available in the hospital where I work. Authorities contracted tailors to sew unsafe masks with local fabrics. Doctors and nurses had to protest before they were given N95 masks.

“These masks are not adequately available. We have to wash the masks for repeated usage. Health workers are in danger. We work under deplorable conditions.”

The group also revealed that health workers were increasingly facing harassment from security agents, despite having been granted exemption from the lockdown order, being essential workers.

“In April, doctors at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State, embarked on a strike over the harassment of health workers by security agents.

“A doctor in the Federal Capital Territory told Amnesty International that some patients are being turned away from some hospitals because health workers do not have adequate personal protective equipment.

“When a health worker is provided with adequate personal protective equipment, we will not be scared of attending to any patient, regardless of the symptoms they exhibit, and lives would be saved,” said Osai Ojigho.

The group further stated that “health workers must be provided with all the necessary personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, soap, water, fair remuneration, appropriate working hours with healthy breaks, accurate and accessible information on COVID-19, training, and psycho-social support.

“Health workers must be given all the support they need to effectively do their jobs.”

“Authorities must adopt appropriate measures and policies to protect health workers and minimize their risks of contracting Covid-19.

“For those who have been infected with COVID-19 following exposure in the workplace, the government must ensure access to adequate treatment and, where relevant, effective remedies and compensation,” said Osai Ojigho.

 

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