Health professionals left abandoned on the Covid-19 frontline

. Apr 21, 2020
Health professionals Doctors and nurses left abandoned on the frontline in fight against Covid-19 Photo: Andréa Rêgo Barros/PCR

Estimates from the World Health Organization show that between 8 and 10 percent of health professionals worldwide will be infected during the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. As of April 20, almost 2.5 million cases had been confirmed across 210 countries.

There are as of yet no official surveys on the infection rates of healthcare workers in Brazil, but weekly TV magazine show Fantástico broadcasted a segment last week reporting 18 deaths of doctors and nurses who had contracted the virus. The report stated that 1,400 health professionals had been infected and another 7,000 were on leave from work due to suspected Covid-19 infections. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the states most affected by the pandemic so far, surveys by health professionals’ unions show that 600 workers have already been infected.

Besides working

on the frontline with infected patients, the federal government has allowed health professionals to increase their working hours and reduce their minimum rest time from 36 hours to 12 hours. </p> <p>The measure affects the routine of many health professionals who work in more than one hospital or clinic. Working overtime in close contact with a virus that still has no cure increases fear and stress levels among these doctors and nurses. These negative mental effects can also alter these professionals&#8217; immune systems, leaving them more exposed to possible infections.</p> <p>&#8220;This change will increase unhealthy habits, such as eating more fatty foods. It is the body&#8217;s survival instinct: sleep deprivation causes the body to modify its behavior, making fatty food more appetizing,&#8221; explains infectious disease specialist Artur Brito.</p> <p>But this temporary legislative change only formalized what is already a widespread reality in the health field, according to health manager Roberta Grabert. She says it is not uncommon to see doctors taking 48-hour shifts, even though it is prohibited by law.</p> <p>She says that medical ethics are misused to make these professionals work longer than they can handle. &#8220;Most professionals are able to leave their tasks incomplete and finish them the next day, but health professionals can&#8217;t. Leaving a patient is a betrayal of the oath we take when we graduate,&#8221; he says.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2016396" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Lack of protection</h2> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> has already <a href="">shown that the total number of Covid-19 infections in Brazil is underreported</a>, and that the public health system cannot support the upcoming surge in patients. Brazil has 48 intensive care beds for every 100,000 inhabitants on the private health system, and this proportion drops to 10 for every 100,000 on the public network.&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes matters worse is that doctors in the country are facing the pandemic <a href="">without basic personal protective equipment</a> (PPE), such as masks. </p> <p>Employees at the state-of-the-art Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo reported that they are being prevented from wearing masks and gloves to avoid frightening patients. The hospital denied the complaint and said it is not suffering from a lack of PPE, but that it is following the World Health Organization recommendation of only making protective gear available to employees who have had contact with Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>While Albert Einstein Hospital claims it is not running low on PPE, one of the most sought-after public hospitals in São Paulo certainly is. Officials at the philanthropic Santa Casa de Misericórdia hospital reported that their employees have been forced to wear raincoats due to a lack of protective aprons.</p> <p>Several healthcare professionals across São Paulo — who asked not to be named — reported that there is a severe lack of testing kits and, in some cases, PPE is being shared between doctors, nurses, and patients.</p> <p>Cases are not limited to São Paulo either. Regional nursing councils of Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco state have already gone to court to ensure that the local governments will ensure the supply of PPE.</p> <p>To compensate for the expected deaths among Brazil&#8217;s medical professionals, the Health Ministry <a href="">issued a public call</a> for doctors and nurses. Until April 9, more than 1 million professionals voluntarily accepted the draft, including <a href="">medical students</a>.

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Brenno Grillo

Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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