Findings from a national survey of South Africa’s healthcare workers have revealed some distressing information about their knowledge about the virus, their working conditions and the psychological impact of the fight against COVID-19.
The “National Survey of South African Healthcare Workers’ Response to COVID-19” was conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine between April 11 and May 7 with the findings released during an online seminar last week, as reported by IOL.
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The survey of 7607 respondents, made up of healthcare workers from across all nine provinces, covered topics including levels of knowledge, awareness and attitudes to COVID-19; training received to respond to COVID-19; access to and the use of protective equipment in the workplace; perceptions of risk in the workplace; concerns in relation to COVID-19 and the health and psychosocial well-being of the respondent.
The respondents work in the private and public sectors, NGOs and civil society groups. Forty percent of respondents are nurses, 80% are female, 60% are black African, and 60% are based in urban formal areas – half from the four most affected provinces, including Gauteng.
One of the most concerning issues raised in the survey was the 40% of the survey’s respondents did not know that COVID-19 is an airborne virus, while 40% also didn’t know its incubation period. Furthermore, one third of respondents have not received any COVID-19 related training on various things such as screening and isolation procedures. Only half of respondents said they have been trained in treatment guidelines.
A major discrepancy has been noted with regards to the level of training between medical practitioners and nurses, leading to nurses feeling less secure about their risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to their families.
Furthermore, risk perception is somehow at its lowest in the worst affected regions in South Africa, the Western Cape and Gauteng. Perhaps most concerning is that two-thirds of healthcare workers think that the general population is not adhering to guidelines set up to deter transmission of COVID-19.
Two thirds of healthcare workers reported a need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), with 80% reporting a shortage of face-shields, N95 masks and gloves to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the respondents were not confident in their ability to use PPE correctly.