Health and care workers are the foundation of health systems and the driving force to achieving universal health coverage and global health security. Their commitment and professionalism throughout the pandemic are evident to all: extraordinary people, performing extraordinary work.
However, too many of them have become infected, ill or died as a result of COVID-19.
WHO estimates that between 80 000 and 180 000 health and care workers could have died from COVID-19 in the period between January 2020 to May 2021, converging to a medium scenario of 115 500 deaths1.
These deaths are a tragic loss. They are also an irreplaceable gap in the world’s pandemic response.
Encouragingly, the reported rate of infections and deaths among health and care workers has reduced over time: but the world cannot be complacent. More work is needed to minimize the risk of infection in the workplace.
Available data from 119 countries suggest that by September 2021, 2 in 5 health and care workers were fully vaccinated on average, with considerable difference across regions and economic groupings. Less than 1 in 10 have been fully vaccinated in the African region, while 22 mostly high income countries reported that above 80% of their personnel are fully vaccinated. These rates only account for data reported to WHO through the standard mechanisms.
The Steering Committee of the International Year of Health and Care Workers, in coordination with a press conference with WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, issued a joint statement underscoring their deep concern about the probable number of deaths, the overall low rate of vaccinations and the vaccines inequities among health and care workers in low- and middle-income countries.
The Joint Statement calls for immediate and concrete action to protect health and care workers:
- Strengthen data collection and reporting on infections, ill-health and deaths among health and care workers due to COVID-19;
- Protect health and care workers during and beyond the current global COVID-19 pandemic; and
- Accelerate the vaccination of all health and care workers in all countries.
Failure to take action undermines the physical, mental, and social well-being of those individuals we depend upon to manage the pandemic. Recognition and commemoration are not enough. It is our moral obligation to protect and invest in health and care workers. And we must move forward together.