WHO warns of ‘very dangerous’ conditions for World Health Workers

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Staff and volunteers at a World Health Organization mission are advised to take extra care for their health The World Health Organization (WHO) is alarmed by the capacity…

WHO warns of 'very dangerous' conditions for World Health Workers

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Staff and volunteers at a World Health Organization mission are advised to take extra care for their health

The World Health Organization (WHO) is alarmed by the capacity of World Health Workers (W.H.W.) to endure some extreme conditions.

Earlier this month the WHO warned that members of the field office in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, were in their most threatened state since the Ebola outbreak was declared in May.

The time limit for protective gear is often the length of a week in such emergency environments.

“We are very worried. If you are the national team or the World Health Organization you are on a very dangerous time scale,” said Professor Tim Orrock of the School of Tropical Medicine at the University of East Anglia, which has a team working with the DRC in Kinshasa.

Dr Orrock is in Congo’s capital working with local doctors and patients, but he said: “We are operating with very limited resources, we are not supported by experts from abroad. We are operating in very, very difficult conditions.

“The time on the protective gear is the whole of a week. We see patients very often in one-week shifts. There are lots of sick patients who are sicker than patients who could be treated tomorrow, so in the conditions we are seeing we are working very, very hard.”

Finding volunteers

Staff at the mission often have to travel long distances to reach the hospitals they are assigned to and they need to be able to manage time differences of up to two hours in a 24-hour period.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption W.H.W.s working in the Ebola zone have to tackle the disease and find a way to cope with shortages of supplies and staff

“It is both just operations and just logistics, how you get there,” said Paul Wetter, a medical director at WHO in Geneva.

“The route is dangerous and can take two-and-a-half hours if they are travelling with little or no sleep.”

Staff on the team have to find new ways to cope with high levels of heat, darkness and uncertainty of time limits for protection. But there is also a human cost. “It’s the emotional well-being of W.H.W., the loyalty of W.H.W. people, the pressures of the situation, the time consuming task of working in difficult conditions, the stress of the job and taking a very difficult path in the middle of conflict,” said Professor Orrock.

The W.H.W. mission is the WHO’s largest ever by far. The WHO is calling for some 114,000 people to be recruited, including medical doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and disinfection workers. But there has been a catastrophic lack of support from the rest of the world.

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