ICN tells BBC World News viewers: Rising rate in COVID-19 infection amongst health workers requires urgent action

25 March 2020

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International Council of Nurses CEO, Howard Catton has shared with BBC World News viewers his growing concern about the rise of coronavirus infections amongst nurses and other health workers.

Speaking on BBC World News, which has a potential audience of 75 million, Mr Catton said it was vital to prioritize and protect health workers if we want to turn the tide against the virus.

“I am really alarmed – we knew that the health worker infection rate in Italy was around 9% which is really too high but in the last 24 hours we have seen reports of a figure of 12% in Spain. We have tragically also heard of the death of nurses in Indonesia, Iran, Spain and Italy.

‘We must prioritize and protect our healthcare workers right now. Not only their lives are at stake but also we need to keep them healthy so that they can keep working and taking care of patients. The virus is going to run for weeks and possibly months, we need to support our healthcare workers and at the moment we are at risk of exhausting them.”

Turning his attention to the supply and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), Mr Catton raised several urgent issues.

“We have got a problem with the supply of personal protective equipment, that has meant that people have been reusing personal protective equipment for too long. PPE is not only important in hospitals but for aged care, nursing homes and social care. We are talking about prioritizing the use and supply of PPE as well.

‘We need manufacturers to step up and increase the supply. There are really important issues about ensuring distribution, which the difficulty of the grounding of some flights has not helped. Countries must do more to cooperate and share the distribution of PPE to ensure supplies.

‘We also need more training, it is not easy to put this equipment on properly, it’s a bit like if someone gave me a scuba-diving set and said go diving – I would not be safe.”

Asked for examples of where measures against coronavirus seemed more effective, Mr Catton said it was the countries and places who prioritized testing.

“I’ve been talking to nurses from many countries, I’ve been particularly impressed by what I’ve heard from China and South Korea and other places such as Taiwan. ‘Test, test, test’ has been really important but also contacting people and tracing the spread of the virus. They have used technology to trace where people may have been in contact with infected people. ‘They have taken the fight to the virus – they’ve gone after it and they have seen some results.”

The ICN CEO concluded with advice for countries who may be next in line to be affected by the virus. “For those countries who have not had a big hit yet, and I’m particularly concerned about Africa, the message is critically important: prepare, get PPE supplies in place, get messages out to the public, test and isolate.”