Protecting our health care workers: how we can prevent epidemics from taking out our front line

January 13, 2021 (New York, USA)— While the world has hailed frontline health care workers as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, not nearly enough has been done to protect their health and safety. As of September 2020, more than 7,000 health care workers had died while fighting COVID-19. Today, Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, along with the Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC), DRASA Health Trust, the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), Frontline Health Worker Coalition (FHWC), Infection Control Africa Network (ICAN), International Council of Nurses (ICN), Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI), Integrate Health, Last Mile health (LMH), Lwala, Medic Mobile, Muso, One to One Africa,, Village Reach and West Africa College of Nurses (WACN) released Protecting Health Care Workers: A Need for Urgent Action,a new report that details the persistent problem of high rates of infection and death among health care workers, the cost of these failures, and recommendations on how to move forward.

“We hear people cheering health care workers in the streets, and then see reports of nurses and doctors forced to ration personal protective equipment (PPE) or work without running water. There is a huge disconnect, but this can change,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former U.S. CDC Director and President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Ensuring that health care workers have what they need to do their jobs safely—from policies, guidance, support, and training to PPE and more—better protects them, their patients, their communities and their health care systems.”

From SARS to Ebola and now COVID-19, outbreaks of deadly disease pose an even greater threat to health care workers than the general population. The new report highlights simple but often neglected strategies that have been proven to protect health workers: the presence of water, sanitation, hygiene, health care waste management and environmental cleaning in health facilities—and evidence-based practices to prevent and control the spread of infections (IPC). Together, effective implementation of these practices keep both patients and health care workers safe.

“If we do not take all the necessary steps to care for the carers, then the risks to our nurses, their patients and our health systems will only become more catastrophic,” said Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses. “The world’s 27 million nurses must not at the same time be clapped for their courage and compassion whilst left unsupported and at serious risk. We require collective action now from all stakeholders, including governments and healthcare providers. Let us remember that health is a human right, which includes all nurses and health workers.”

The report exposes our failure to protect health care workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that in Europe and the Americas in the initial stages of the pandemic, 14 percent of reported COVID-19 caseswere health workers; globally health care workers represent under 3 percent of the population and under 8 percent in high-income countries. This clearly illustrates the increased risk our frontline faces compared to other members of their communities. Health care workers also frequently report mental health repercussions,with more than 70 percent of those responding to COVID-19 exhibiting PTSD symptoms and 50 percent showing symptoms of depression.

Implementing basic standards and training, providing psychological support, and measuring progress has a cost. But the cost of inaction exceeds it. Better investment in our frontline defense against disease threats will save lives and millions of dollars during the next epidemic.A forthcoming study from the World Bank finds that failing to protect frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed unnecessary cost to the world.

Action now will prevent tragic health worker infections and losses in the next outbreak. The report outlines six recommendations:

“For too long, health care worker deaths in Africa have heralded infectious disease outbreaks in the community,” said Professor Folasade Ogunsola, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, MD, PhD, and Chair of the Infection Control Africa Network. “We must stop treating infection prevention and control as only an outbreak response and recognize it is critical for system strengthening so our healthcare facilities are a safe environment for healthcare workers, patients and visitors. COVID-19 presents us with a golden opportunity to create sustainable change.”

Read the complete report here.


Media Contacts:

Christina Honeysett, Vital Strategies: [email protected]; +1.914.424.3356

Erin Sykes, Resolve to Save Lives: [email protected]; +1.646.612.0001

Steven Chlapecka, Resolve to Save Lives, [email protected], +1.917.623.0246

About Infection Control Africa Network (ICAN)

The Infection Control Africa Network (ICAN)exists to promote and facilitate the establishment of infection control programmes, achievement and maintenance of infection reduction, including healthcare associate infections, and promote antimicrobial stewardship activities through education by working with infection prevention structures in Africa and other International health related associations. Over the years ICAN has grown and become the voice of Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) in Africa with over 560 strong membership.

About International Council of Nurses (ICN)

The International Council of Nurses (ICN)is a federation of more than 130 national nurses associations (NNAs), representing the more than 27 million nurses worldwide. Founded in 1899, ICN is the world’s first and widest reaching international organisation for health professionals. Operated by nurses and leading nurses internationally, ICN works to ensure quality nursing care for all, sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, and the presence worldwide of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce.

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and preventing epidemics. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To find out more, visit: or Twitter @ResolveTSL.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

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Media Contact

[email protected]

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives is a not-for-profit organization partnering with countries, communities and organizations to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and make the world safer from epidemics. To find out more, visit: or Twitter @ResolveTSL.