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Health Workers Forced to Buy Masks Over PPE Shortages

Some of the health workers that have succumbed to COVID-19 in the last two weeks

The Uganda Medical Association- UMA has expressed concern about health workers being forced to buy masks.

According to UMA, many doctors, especially those that are not working in the COVID-19 treatment units and cannot afford 2,000 Shillings for a re-usable mask or 1,000 Shillings for a medical mask are forced to re-use disposal masks.

The doctors say the scarce supply of PPE especially facial masks is exposing many health workers to COVID-19.

According to the health ministry, more than 300 health workers have been infected with COVID-19 in the second wave with over 10 deaths reported. In the first wave, the figure stood at over 1,800 infections and 20 deaths.

By June 9, the COVID-19 incident report of Wakiso district showed that 136 health workers have been infected with the disease in the second wave. Three of them were re-infected twice.

Dr Frank Asiimwe, a urologist and also the chairman of doctor’s welfare at UMA says many health workers are now being forced to use masks for three days if they can’t afford to buy, which exposes many of their members to the disease.

Dr Mukuzi Muhereza says due to a surge in COVID-19 cases at the moment, hospitals are overcrowded yet doctors do not have adequate PPE. As a result, many health workers are being infected.

Geraldine Nkutu, a doctor at Mulago National Referral Hospital who works in the emergency department says that she comes into contact with over 20 patients.

URN reporter saw Nkutu wearing a medical mask that is visibly dirty and was planning to buy a new facial mask. When asked why she is buying a mask yet the government is supposed to provide them with masks, Nkutu says she has no option.

“I was given one mask last week. If I do not buy one for myself, I will expose myself to COVID,” she said.

Dr Charles Olaro, the Director in charge of curative services at the health ministry says that all health facilities are supposed to have enough PPE, especially at the COVID-19 units.

“Ideally all health facilities are supposed to have enough masks for all members of staff but shortages might be experienced when health facilities are not able to order for masks on time,” he said.

According to the health ministry’s infection prevention and control measures, health workers working in highly infectious environments such as hospitals during a disease outbreak are supposed to change PPE like masks every three hours at the minimum.

Doctors who work on high dependency units or Intensive Care Units are supposed to change shifts every three hours or more frequently to avoid burnout.

However, according to Dr Asiimwe, many doctors are working long hours, especially with the surge in cases. As a result, more are being exposed to the disease.

“They need to come up with a policy that will enable health workers to work for shorter shifts.

Health workers are spending the whole day working in COVID-19 units and when they are tired, they tend to make mistakes while on the wards or even in their homes and this is leading to avoidable infections,” he added.

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