Coronavirus: How vulnerable are health workers in Nigeria?

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Doctors in Nigeria’s public hospitals have gone on strike over what they see as inadequate protective equipment and pay, with an exemption for coronavirus treatment centres.

Health Minister Dr Osagie Ehanire, however, says the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been “dealt with” and is “off the table”.

So how exposed are Nigeria’s health workers?

The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has raised concerns about the number of infections and deaths among health workers.

It says 10 doctors have died.

Former NARD president Dr Olusegun Olaopa said: “We have lost quite a number of doctors to this pandemic.”

Healthcare workers who’ve had Covid-19

More health workers have tested positive for coronavirus in Nigeria than in any other country in the continent, except South Africa.

But they represent only 6% of all reported cases in the country, whereas in neighbouring Niger that figure is 19% – the highest in Africa.

Liberia and Sierra Leone have the next highest rates, with about 12% of total cases.

But these other West African nations all have much lower overall numbers of infections than their much larger regional neighbour, Nigeria.

Health workers as a percentage of all coronavirus cases

And different approaches to testing and the recording of cases make country comparisons difficult.

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Although, the World Health Organization (WHO) says health workers across the continent have been significantly affected by Covid-19.

Many countries around the world have struggled to provide enough protective gear for healthcare workers.

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The shortage is particularly acute in poorer nations, according to the Center for Global Development (CGD).

And there is particular concern in Nigeria, as many believe the extent of the virus is not fully known.

In northern Kano state, for example, there have been numerous reports of deaths suspected to be linked to coronanvirus but no testing.

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Public hospitals in Nigeria have long been underfunded

Nigeria’s public healthcare system has long been underfunded.

And there are frequent strikes over pay and working conditions.

The government spends about 4% of its annual budget on health.

In 2001, African Union members pledged to spend 15% on health.

The Nigerian government has also recently proposed a 43% cut to primary healthcare services, in the context of an economy suffering from the coronavirus lockdown and low global oil prices.

“There are very few hospitals per person and the public hospitals are very underfunded and therefore they are not effective,” says Onyeka Onwuegbunam, a Nigerian health expert at University College London.

“The primary healthcare system (local doctors and pharmacies) is not working – and what we have is secondary and tertiary healthcare (hospitals and specialised centres) which is carrying the load.”

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