Comrade John Odah, Executive Secretary, OTUWA
Mr Sonny Ogbuehi, Country Program Director of the Solidarity Center, West Africa

MANY West African countries have inherent shortcomings in their healthcare sector, all of which add up to compound their inability to squarely confront the current Coronavirus pandemic in the sub-region; a survey conducted by the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) has revealed.

The survey was conducted with the support of the American Solidarity Center, and presented on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 via a virtual ceremony that had participants from across the sub-region and the United States of America (USA), representing national labour centres under the forum of OTUWA Communication Group.

The survey noted, among other key findings, that there is gross shortage of healthcare facilities and medical personnel in many West African countries, that West African healthcare systems performed poorly in their responses to COVID-19 pandemic, and that healthcare workers who were in the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus lack adequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) in addition to their lack of access to COVID-19 tests.

Key findings

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The survey noted that the shortage of PPEs and lack of access to Covid-19 tests in many countries made healthcare workers not to feel safe in carrying out their jobs just as it reduced the confidence of the general populace in the response capacity of the health systems of the countries of the sub-region.

In addition to these challenges, the survey also noted that majority of healthcare workers are being subjected to carrying out additional tasks and work for increased number of hours.

The survey noted: “In response to a question regarding the challenges confronting West African healthcare systems, respondents indicated inadequate healthcare facilities, shortage of medical personnel and expensive medical costs as the most pressing issues…

“In response to a question asking health care workers to assess their country’s healthcare system response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the health workers reported negatively.

“…In response to a question asking healthcare workers to rate their access to personal protective equipment (PPEs) at work including: masks, gloves, gowns, and disinfectants, the vast majority reported negatively.

“…In response to a question on whether there are enough COVID-19 tests available for health care workers who want to get tested, a vast majority of the respondents (71%) reported in the negative.

“…When asked whether there are enough COVID- 19 tests available for the general population who wants to get tested, majority of health care workers responded that they were not available.

“…In response to the question; what would make you feel safer at work, health care workers ranked access to PPE and training on use of PPE as the top two measures.

“…In response to the question; how has COVID-19 affected your workload, health care workers responded that they are being asked to do additional tasks.  While a significant number report no impact, or decreased hours, a high percentage also report increased working hours.

“…In response to the question, how has COVID-19 affected your workload, health care workers responded that they are being asked to do additional tasks.  While a significant number report no impact, or decreased hours, a high percentage also report increased working hours.”

According to OTUWA, “the findings are indicative of the shortcomings of healthcare systems in many West African countries and the challenges confronting healthcare workers.”

 

It noted that there is the need for trade union engagement in the areas of improvement of health care services, protection of the rights of health workers and development of policies that will ensure that health care is accessible and affordable to all.

OTUWA asserted towards this end, there is the urgent need for a constructive engagement with ECOWAS structures, national governments and relevant healthcare authorities in order to among other things prioritise and increase budgetary spending on health facilities and supplies, ensure access to adequate PPEs and other supplies to healthcare workers, intensify Covid-19 tests for healthcare workers and the general public, and protect the rights of health workers to ensure a sustainable healthcare management across the sub-region.

 

OTUWA called on industrial unions and national centres to reach out to non-union members, rural health workers, including women groups in the areas of research and advocacy towards improving the quality of healthcare and working conditions for health workers.  “We take this opportunity to invite national union centers, unions that represent health care workers from all professional categories that represent health care users to join us in this work,” OTUWA stated.

Impact of Covid-19 to be felt for years

“In its preamble, the survey noted that coronavirus pandemic remains the biggest challenge that the West African sub-region has faced since World War II and that its impact on the economy of the sub-region would be felt for years to come.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge the region has faced since World War II. Its’ economic impact will be felt for years in reduced national budgets and by workers and their families. The healthcare sector is among those hard hit, with healthcare workers laboring on the frontline courageously combating the spread of the virus and managing infections.

“In this context, the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) with the support of Solidarity Center conducted a survey to assess the impact of the Covid-19 health crisis on workers in this sector and the different health systems in place in six West African countries namely: The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

“While not claiming to be statistically significant, the survey provides us an important window to understand some key needs and opportunities to bolster healthcare as West African countries combat and hopefully recover from the Coronavirus pandemic. It aims to serve as a conversation starter with unions that represent Healthcare workers, National union federations, local and national governments, Health ministries and regional bodies responsible for advancing development goals, such as ECOWAS.”

The objective of the survey, OTUWA noted, “is to acquire information from healthcare workers across West Africa to better understand the situation of healthcare workers during the current pandemic as part of the larger OTUWA campaign of ‘Healthcare is a Human Right’. The Secondary goal of the survey is to create awareness among the healthcare workers in the West African sub-region that OTUWA is leading a healthcare campaign with the theme, “Healthcare Is A Human Right.”

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