Ethics briefing

Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (10):707-708 (2020)

Abstract

An Amnesty International briefing, published in July 2020, highlights the grave risks health workers are facing globally, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.1 The report uses data from 63 countries across the world from January to June 2020 and is rich with examples. While recognising that information about the pandemic is constantly evolving, and each country is in a separate phase of the outbreak, Amnesty International draws attention to several troubling trends. By virtue of the role undertaken by health workers, they face a greater exposure to COVID-19, which has contributed to many of the concerns they now deal with. The briefing notes the evidence of the higher death rate from health workers compared with the general population in countries ranging from Denmark to Argentina, while also pointing out the significantly higher death rate in BAME health workers raised by the BMA in the UK.2 PPE shortages had been reported in nearly all of the 63 countries analysed. Many health workers globally stated that they had to buy their own PPE and others described cases of ‘improvisation’, when suitable PPE was not available, such as using bin bags or raincoats. Furthermore, health workers in several countries had experienced increases in workload with formal measures to extend health workers’ contracted hours passed in some countries as well as further changes to their terms and conditions of service. There were also reports of increased mental stress, particularly from those working in ICUs; the increased work and stress is not being matched with suitable compensation or remuneration. Despite many countries passing special benefits for health workers, it was commonly stated that these benefits had not been received yet or that they did not apply to all health workers, with cleaners and other lower-paid yet vital roles excluded. Deeply concerning …

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Olivia J. Lines
Birkbeck College

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