Nigeria: World Patient Safety Day - Covid-19 Pandemic Amplifies Importance of Health Workers' Safety

Abuja — When Nigeria recorded its first COVID-19 case in February, Dr Abdullahi Ibrahim, the officer- in- charge at the Primary Healthcare centre in Byazhin, Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory held a meeting with all the staff and stressed the need to always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), perform the necessary hand hygiene to protect themselves and adhere to respiratory etiquette, while attending to patients.

Dr Ibrahim said the objective was not to scare the health workers but to underscore the need for health workers to always observe the precautionary measures, putting in mind that the centre was closest to the community and the country was combatting COVID-19 among other infectious diseases.

"The meeting was not the first of its kind that I convened with my colleagues. This particular one however, was to stress the importance of health and safety because I knew it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 might spread to some part the country going by the trend across the world then. I knew Nigeria have been handling lots of infectious diseases and there is the need to take safety precautions seriously because we are the closest to the community."

Health workers have always been susceptible to contracting infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Ebola, Tuberculosis, HIV because they are at the forefront of disease control. Health workers need to be extra careful because they relate with patients, their relatives and also interact with the community. "We need to do our part, while the government does its part of providing the protective gears," Dr Ibrahim said.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been reports and data on the sacrifices of health workers in Nigeria, some of whom have died from the disease. As of September 15, 2002, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), about 236 health workers, including doctors, nurses, laboratory scientist and others have contracted COVID-19. Of which 70 were doctors, 37 nurses, 19 medical laboratory scientist, and others health workers working in the health sector. These infections underscore the importance of infection prevention and control particularly patient safety at health facilities across the nation.

Government redoubles efforts to stem further occurrence

Speaking on procedures put in place to ensure patients' safety, Dr Sule Ahmed drew attention to some of the measures taken by government and the management of the hospital to ensure the safety of health workers and patients in the facility said there have been awareness campaigns to make both staff and patients aware of the severity of COVID-19 and how to prevent themselves and others from contracting the disease. These measures are replicated across the country he mentioned.

"To be able to keep the patients safe, we have to first keep the health workers safe. The process is intertwined. This includes keeping the environment safe and conducive for both the health workers and patients. We provided the right protective gears to the health workers because if they are not well protected while carrying out their duties they can cause more harm for the patients and themselves. We have been training and re-training our health workers with some skills to protect themselves. We have set up an infection Prevention Control Committee (IPC), Continuous Medical Education Committee (CMEC) and others to continue looking into how to keep the health workers safe, Dr Ahmed said.

Significance of patients' safety

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced World Patient Safety Day in 2019 with its first celebration held on September 17 of the same year. Patient safety is defined as the absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of healthcare and the reduction of risk of unnecessary harm associated with healthcare to an acceptable minimum.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme for this year's celebration is "Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety." The theme focusing on the interrelationship between health worker safety and patient safety, is illustrated in the slogan 'Safe health workers, Safe patients'. It emphasizes the need for a safe working environment for health workers as a prerequisite for ensuring patient safety.

Buttressing the importance of the day, the WHO Nigeria Country Representative (WR), Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo said: "Patient safety is essential in strengthening Nigeria's health system to achieve health sector goals in the Second National Strategic Health Development Plan towards Universal Health Coverage... "

WHO in Nigeria has been supporting the development and implementation of health sector policies, strategies and guidelines focusing on the strengthening of the safety of all health services, building safety competencies amongst health workers as service delivery requirements and advocating for the safe working environment for health workers at all levels of care at national and sub-national levels.

"I call on all of us to work together to protect the health workers in Nigeria, so they can protect patients, in supportive and safe enabling environments for the delivery of quality integrated health care," Dr Mulombo said.

WHO will continue to work with the Federal Ministry of Health to pursue patient-centred policies, redesigning processes, ramping-up hygiene practices and transforming organizational cultures to ensure that health care is made safer.

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