COVID-19 claimed the lives of 115,500 health professionals in just 18 months, according to the United Nations.

According to UN agencies, 115,500 health workers died from COVID-19 in the first 18 months of the pandemic, which was caused by a “systemic absence of protection.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) cautioned on Monday that health workers around the world needed substantially better working conditions to combat “dangerous neglect” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN’s health and labor organizations issued a combined plea for action, claiming that the coronavirus epidemic has resulted in “an additional heavy toll” on health professionals.

“Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, the health sector was one of the most dangerous to work in,” stated Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health at the World Health Organization.

“Only a few healthcare facilities had health and safety at work programs in place,” Neira stated.

“The poor working environment resulted in infections, musculoskeletal diseases and injuries, workplace aggression and harassment, burnout, and allergies among health care employees.”

To address this, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have developed new national and local country standards for health centers.

“Such programs should include all workplace dangers, including infectious, ergonomic, physical, chemical, and psychosocial hazards,” according to the authorities.

States that have developed or are actively implementing occupational health and safety programs in health settings have seen reductions in work-related injuries and absences due to illness, as well as improvements in the work environment, productivity, and retention of health workers, according to the authors.

“Like all other workers, they should have the right to decent employment, safe and healthy working environments, and social protection for health care, sick leave, and occupational diseases and injuries,” said ILO Sectoral Policies Department Director Alette van Leur.

More than one-third of health facilities lack hygiene stations at the point of care, according to the agencies, and fewer than one-sixth of countries have a national policy for healthy and safe working conditions in the health sector.

“Sickness absenteeism and weariness compounded pre-existing shortages of health professionals and harmed health systems’ capacities to respond to the increasing demand for care and prevention during the crisis,” stated James Campbell, Director of the WHO’s Health Workforce Department.

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