Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, is encouraging member countries to take steps to expand their healthcare workforce as part of measures to ensure that each territory is adequately prepared to deal with future health emergencies, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Her urging comes against the background of data, which she says shows that the ratio of doctors serving across Latin America and the Caribbean is currently 20 per 100,000 persons.
“This is much lower than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended 30 per 10,000,” the Director said, during PAHO’s COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday (September 2).
“So, countries must hire more doctors, as well as nurses, midwives, and first responders,” Dr. Etienne said, while emphasising the need to provide essential services to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.
“When countries expand their workforce, it doesn’t just improve health outcomes, it drives economic growth. This is both a necessary and a smart investment,” she argued.
Dr. Etienne also underscored the need for countries to ensure that health workers are provided with adequate resources to carry out their duties during the course of the pandemic, and thereafter.
She said this is particularly important against the background of challenges experienced early in the outbreak, “when personal protective equipment (PPE) was running low and health workers were forced to reuse masks and gowns, seek alternatives or forgo protection altogether to care for those in need”.
Dr. Etienne said while PAHO has donated more than 31 million masks and more than 1.4 million gloves and gowns to protect the region’s front-line workers, “over the coming months, countries must also boost their healthcare capacity”.
“[Additionally], health workers should be working regular shifts, not overtime long hours, since we know that the risk of [COVID-19] infection increases the longer we work. This will, in turn, reduce burnout and stress,” she added.
Dr. Etienne also underscored the need for member countries to enhance occupational health programmes to ensure safe working conditions and fair pay for health workers.
“These programmes [will] help to ensure the necessary protection and services for their physical and mental health needs,” she further stated.
Dr. Etienne, in noting that “this [COVID-19] virus will remain with us for years to come”, emphasised that the region’s ability to respond to it depends on countries providing their health workers with the requisite support and resources “to heal the sick and see us through this pandemic”.