Survey reveals impact of Covid-19 on South African healthcare workers

Healthcare workers are dealing with psychological distress and fatigue, among other things.

South African healthcare workers are experiencing psychological distress over the risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus and passing it onto their families. This is according to a survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine. The national survey of more than 7,600 healthcare professionals - including nurses and medical practitioners - was conducted from 11 April 2020 to 7 May 2020 and aimed to ascertain the impact Covid-19 on South African health workers both physically and emotionally. 

Among the respondents, 4 in 5 were female, 2 in 5 of were nursers, while half of the participants worked in the public health sector.

“Healthcare workers have been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic and are at high risk of contracting the virus.  This is in addition to already strenuous conditions under which they work including long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma and physical and psychological violence,” says the survey. 

The survey found that there was a significant inverse association between psychological distress and general wellbeing in that participants with high psychological distress had low levels of general health and well-being. On the other hand, health professionals that had high general well-being had a low level of psychological distress.

The survey also looked at issues pertaining to levels of knowledge and awareness regarding the virus, with 2 in 5 participants not knowing the correct Covid-19 incubation period while 2 in 5 of all professional categories incorrectly identified Covid-19 as being airborne. 

Meanwhile, participants who reported that they were ‘not confident at all’ about the correct use of PPE had a significantly higher self-perceived risk of contracting. The level of concern for personal and family well-being and for passing Covid-19 infection to family members was significantly higher than for other possible issues of concern.

According to the department of health, the latest statistics on infected frontline workers suggested that as of 2 August, some 24,104 workers had tested positive, while 181 workers had lost their lives.