More equipment is needed to protect the world’s nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to save lives, the head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said.
“They are heroic. I think there is no other way to describe what they are doing at this moment,” said Howard Catton, a British nurse who is the council’s CEO.
Infection rates of 9 percent and 12 to 14 percent have been reported among health workers in Italy and Spain respectively, he said, adding that nurses have died in the two nations, as well as Iran and Indonesia.
“We have no doubt that the rate of infections is related in part to the lack of PPE — personal protective equipment,” he said at the ICN offices in Geneva.
“There is a global shortage and nurses obviously are at a higher risk given the people that they are caring for,” he said.
The federation represents 130 national associations and more than 20 million registered nurses.
The WHO has repeatedly called for countries and manufacturers to step up production of masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment for vulnerable health workers amid critical shortages.
As of yesterday, at least 803,704 people had been infected worldwide in the outbreak that began in December in China and had claimed at least 39,070 lives, the WHO said.
Catton said there had been problems with supply chains in hard-hit Italy and Spain, describing their health systems as “very close to being overwhelmed.”
Nurses worldwide take samples from COVID-19 patients, give them medicines and oxygen, and help incubate those in serious condition.
“They are working under intense pressure, often long hours, some working back-to-back shifts for days on end, even sleeping over in the hospital, the facility, in which they work,” Catton said.
Some nurses have been forced to reuse their gear or make their own masks and gowns, he added.
“Wearing personal protective equipment when it is available is not easy either... Simple things like going to the loo and eating are of course much more difficult,” he said.
Nurses across Africa and South Asia could be at greater risk as the virus moves to poorer settings.
“We are very concerned that those countries that have weaker, more fragile healthcare systems could very quickly become overwhelmed by this virus if it takes hold in their countries,” Catton said.
Nurses in Zimbabwe, fearing for their own safety, have been on strike due to a lack of information and protective gear, he said.
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