Health workers' safety: AFT pushes for PPE

Adequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) including respirators for healthcare workers is crucial for an effective COVID-19 response. But health workers across the world are pointing out that many of them do not have access to adequate PPE.

This constitutes an emergency within the public health emergency of the pandemic, as Rosa Pavanelli, the PSI General Secretary pointed out in a recent letter to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization.

Healthcare workers require the correct PPE and the right PPE practices to keep them safer. In several countries, simple facemasks are presented as adequate PPE for face protection, instead of N95 respirators. There were even instances in Wuhan, where nurses were reduced to using diapers in place of facemasks!

We need evidence-based arguments and bold policy advocacy to fight for the occupational safety and health of healthcare workers who are battling day and night to save lives and mitigate the impact of the spread of the coronavirus infection. There is increasing number of cases of health workers who have been infected by the virus. In Italy, healthcare workers now constitute 14% of cases (up from 8.4% last week), while in Spain, they now constitute 15% of cases.

An increasing body of evidence shows that short-range aerosol transmission is likely to be an important means of transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, it is vital that respiration protection measures be available for all healthcare workers.

In a letter to the WHO Director General in January, Global Nurses United, which includes several PSI affiliates, pointed out the need for airborne precautions to be implemented when healthcare workers are caring for patients with possible or known Covid-19 infection, in addition to contact and air droplets precautions.

AFT, a leading PSI affiliate of professionals delivering services in the health and education sector, is taking action to safeguard the respiratory safety of health workers. Pointing out that the traditional understanding of infectious disease transmission (contact, droplet and airborne) is 70 years old, the union draws attention to a growing body of research indicating that many viruses, including coronaviruses, are aerosolized when an infected person speaks and exhales.

Some of the resources it makes available, ranging from AFT’s call for action on the global PPE shortages, to academic publications on consideration of reusable elastomeric respirators in health care, can be downloaded below. The AFT resources are primarily for its members, so some of them focus on institutions in the United States such as the US Center for Diseases Control. But the content in these resources is relevant for affiliates across the world as we fight for the health of all health workers and drive home the message that only safe workers save lives.