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PSI underscores WHO’s focus on the plight of health workers in emergencies

20 August 2014
Health workers in Sierra Leone, Ebola epicentre
#protecthealthworkers - Health workers are globally called to the frontline of natural disasters and man-made conflicts. They are among the first responders to the resulting humanitarian crises, alongside fire-fighters, civil defence, law enforcement and other emergency workers.

PSI decries all forms of violence against health workers globally.  Attacks on health workers and their workplaces are widespread in every current zone of conflict, and getting worse.  Nearly 500 incidents of health workers being threatened, arrested, robbed, beaten, kidnapped, injured, or killed outright occurred in 2008-2010, whereas the ICRC recorded over 600 incidents in which health workers were the victims of such attacks on their life and security in the one year 2012 alone.

Last year, PSI drew attention to the horrific assassinations of health workers engaged in the vital global campaign to eradicate polio. Between December 2012 and April 2013, at least 33 people were murdered while working on polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.  Most were female health workers, but volunteers, drivers and police officers were also killed.

But health workers are also being harassed in the midst of the EVD (Ebola) outbreak in West Africa.  The attack last Saturday at a quarantine centre in Liberia resulted not only in the dispersal of 17 patients, but in the pillage of essential medical supplies that had just been delivered to the centre. Nurses were left with the remaining Ebola patients, but without protective equipment.

Health workers are exposed when they treat patients or handle specimens for diagnosis in laboratories and the bodies of patients who have died. Health workers account for at least 7 per cent of all known deaths in the outbreak. PSI is mourning the loss of health workers and members of our PSI affiliated unions in all the countries affected. We grieve for nurses; physicians; community health officers, health assistants and nurses; maternal and child health aides, traditional birth attendants, nursing aides and drivers.

Deaths of health workers are entirely preventable and are occurring for lack of the needed equipment to protect themselves.

PSI calls on unions in the field to continue their valuable work to avoid contagion and to protect health workers. PSI sustains its support for WAHSUN’s continuing leadership on behalf of the unions of health and social services workers of the region, and their response to Ebola.

PSI is also asking for support to our unions in the field, including donations to the PSI Aid Fund.

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