African healthcare workers suffer from COVID-19-induced stress, burnout

The pandemic could worsen in Sub-Saharan Africa if healthcare workers leave their jobs because of fear of COVID-19, stress, burnout and poor remuneration, a study suggests.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement last month which said its partners and member states were “deeply concerned about the probable number of deaths, the overall low rate of vaccinations and the vaccines inequities among healthcare workers in low- and middle-income countries”.

The statement added that as of September 2021, less than ten per cent of healthcare workers in the WHO African region had been fully vaccinated while the corresponding figure for 22 mostly high-income countries was more than 80 per cent. It urged political leaders and policymakers to do all within their power to make regulatory, policy and investment decisions that ensure the protection of healthcare workers.

Higher perceived preparedness was associated with higher satisfaction, while high stress and burnout were associated with lower satisfaction.”

Patience Afulani, University of California, San Francisco

According to the study published in PLOS Global Public Health about one in three healthcare workers (38 per cent) in Ghana and Kenya are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Around 62 per cent said they were unprepared for the pandemic, while about 70 per cent said they were experiencing stress and 69 per cent suffered from burnout.

“Given the already precarious position of the healthcare workforce in Africa, if efforts are not put in place to improve job satisfaction among healthcare workers, the pandemic could be worsened by either healthcare workers leaving their jobs or performing poorly,” says Patience Afulani, lead author and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco in the United States.

Afulani said the study was conducted in two phases: phase one included data collected in Ghana from 17 April to 31 May 2020, while for phase two data was collected in Ghana and Kenya from 9 November 2020 to 8 March 2021.

“Higher perceived preparedness was associated with higher satisfaction while high stress and burnout were associated with lower satisfaction,” Afulani explains.

“Interventions to address stress and burnout are particularly important and needed,” the study adds. “Programmes like workplace mindfulness training, stress management initiatives and peer support have been found to mitigate the effects of stress and burnout.”

Stephen Tabiri, dean of the University of Development Studies Medical School in Ghana, says: “This study is very relevant for the [healthcare workers] and stakeholders in Sub-Saharan Africa as it has demonstrated … that many of them are not satisfied with their working environment and conditions and more especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”He adds that implementing the proposed interventions of this study is necessary to improve job satisfaction, performance, commitment, absenteeism, retention, turnover as well as patients’ satisfaction.

Tabiri tells SciDev.Net that to mitigate the impact of future pandemics, healthcare managers in Sub-Saharan Africa should be trained on effective communication and how to provide support for frontline healthcare workers and their families.

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