One of the crucial lessons taught by this pandemic worldwide is that the well-being of a nation exceedingly relies on the efficacy of its medical workforce. Today, health care workers around the globe are experiencing a whacking amount of pressure in treating and caring for covid-19 patients at the forefront. Studies conducted around the world report that healthcare workers are not only vulnerable to higher exposure to the virus but also mental health issues such as anxiety, trauma, stress, and PTSD. In certain countries, they don’t have access to basic precautionary equipment.
This article explores various courses of action adopted by countries worldwide in providing mental, financial, and other aids to these health care workers; keeping in mind that a potent strategy in aiding these workers must include provisions to provide them with maximum protection and high-quality care.
The Woes of Our Covid Warriors
The pandemic has revealed the utmost importance of healthcare workers in the functioning of any society and yet, many countries are failing to pay them adequate wages on time. Giving timely salaries is imperative in maintaining a basic level of motivation in the workforce. This issue is being observed in many countries including Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda as well as India. Almost all across Africa, healthcare workers have taken to the streets to protest against low wages and substandard working conditions.
Countries with low resources are unable to pay hardship allowances or wages for working overtime. This has made employees reluctant to work, especially in challenging areas with a low doctor-to-patient ratio. Community health workers in many countries are being denied even insurance facilities. As per reports, the majority of workers from these places would prefer housing with running water & electricity, continued access to education and schooling for children over a wage increase.
Curbing The Mental Health Crisis
In countries such as the UK, Norway, Germany, and Ireland, appropriate guidelines have been officially issued by the government with provisions to provide psychological assistance for healthcare workers. These guidelines did not exist pre-crisis. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, the Russian federation, etc have made available remote counseling sessions for their workers. Norway has established a ‘buddy system’ where these health professionals can discuss their situation with suitable peers. Stockholm, Sweden has made access to psychological health which is available for workers 24*7 without the requirement of a referral form from the manager.
In Malta, mental health support has been provided to the staff working on the frontline. In-house psychologists are made available in front-line workplaces where they teach basic self-care and resilience through various interactive sessions. Mindfulness sessions are conducted through targeted video clips designed to develop strength and patience in the workforce. A freephone helpline has been provided by various NGOs and mental health institutions featuring fast-track referral pathways to those requiring immediate psychological care.
Provisions for Childcare Facilities
While most of the countries had shut down schools and other child care facilities, a few of them, namely – the Provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec in Canada, and Lithuania have kept schools and childcare facilities accessible for the benefit of the healthcare worker’s children. Due to the unavailability of a national scheme for childcare facilities for children of healthcare workers in Israel, many hospitals and universities were seen independently organizing childcare for kids aged 3+ for their workers.
About 19 countries have been providing additional financial support above the normal salaries to workers involved in the COVID-19 response. In Bulgaria, medical and non-medical professionals involved in treating covid patients have been offered a monthly premium of BGN 1,000 which is to be paid until the crisis is over. 60-100% hike is being offered to health care professionals in Lithuania. In France, the bonus for healthcare workers ranged from Euro 1,500 to Euro 500, depending on the severity of the affected areas where the worker is posted. Poland, Germany, Armenia, and Estonia have all offered appropriate compensation to their workers. However, it should be noted that in some countries the promised bonuses have not been received. Beyond salary rises and compensations, countries like Denmark, Spain, and Lithuania have chosen to recognize this pandemic as a work-related injury for the health care staff and enabled them access to associated benefits. In countries like Lithuania, Romania, Spain, and Kyrgyzstan, there are provisions for providing families with a lumpsum amount of compensation in case a health worker from their family dies. In Malta, health care workers who were supposed to stay at home on preventive quarantine still receive their basic pay including class/grade allowances.
Other Support Measures
Poland, Romania, Malta have provided free accommodation for workers isolating from their families. The UK and Hungary have made transport facilities completely free of cost for these workers. NHS workers throughout London can hire bikes free of cost. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals in Italy who worked throughout the pandemic have been offered 50 CME ( Continuing Medical Education ) credits in 2020. In Malta, proper measures have been taken to ensure the continuity in parental care for children by making provisions for complimentary shift work and paid leaves. Additionally, a free childcare center has been opened by the government to care for the children of healthcare workers. A sundry of practically supportive measures have been introduced by the government to assist these workers and their families as they battle the pandemic head-on. Be it mental well-being initiatives, salary increases, or provisions for childcare, many countries are providing it all in their focus to provide holistic care to these workers during these uncertain times. Other initiatives include free transportation, continuing professional development credits for medical students, and childcare facilities.
While many countries can boast of initiating appropriate measures to protect the interests of these healthcare workers, these measures are yet to be tested for their effectiveness. It becomes vital to evaluate the veritable impact of these initiatives in order to be better prepared for any future crisis. Moreover, emphasis on health workers’ mental & physical well-being must be routinely assessed both during and after the crisis ends, in order to ensure the limitation of any long-term impacts. Provisions to provide adequate salaries and compensations, especially in low resource countries must be given an immediate priority, given the unparalleled importance these workers hold in handling deadly predicaments as the COVID-19 pandemic.