Over 90,000 health workers infected with COVID-19 worldwide: nurses group

By Cecile Mantovani

(Reuters) – At least 90,000 health-care workers worldwide are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, and possibly twice that, amid reports of continuing shortages of protective equipment, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said on Wednesday.

The disease has killed more than 260 nurses, it said in a statement, urging authorities to keep more accurate records to help prevent the virus from spreading among staff and patients.

The Geneva-based association said a month ago that 100 nurses had died in the pandemic sparked by a novel coronavirus that emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

“The figure for health care workers infections has risen from 23,000 to we think more than 90,000, but that is still an under-estimation because it is not (covering) every country in the world,” Howard Catton, ICN’s chief executive officer, told Reuters Television in its lakeside offices.

The 90,000 estimate is based on information collected on 30 countries from national nursing associations, government figures and media reports. The ICN represents 130 national associations and more than 20 million registered nurses.

Catton, noting that 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, said: “If the average health worker infection rate, about 6 percent we think, is applied to that, the figure globally could be more than 200,000 health worker infections today.

“The scandal is that governments are not systematically collecting and reporting on this information. It looks to us as though they are turning a blind eye which we think is completely unacceptable and will cost more lives,” Catton, a Briton, added.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is coordinating the global response to the pandemic, says that its 194 member states are not providing comprehensive figures on health worker infections as they grapple with the unprecedented crisis.

The WHO last said on April 11 that some 22,000 health workers were thought to have been infected.

The ICN said it now believes those “shocking” figures to significantly underestimate the reality.

“This failure to record both infection rates and deaths among healthcare workers is putting more nurses and their patients in danger,” the statement said.

(Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Congo starts vaccinating health workers against Ebola

A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of a woman before the launch of vaccination campaign against the deadly Ebola virus near Mangina village, near the town of Beni, in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

By Fiston Mahamba

MANGINA, Congo (Reuters) – Congolese officials and the World Health Organization began vaccinating health workers against the deadly Ebola virus on Wednesday, to try to halt an outbreak in Congo’s volatile east.

A Reuters witness on a visit to Mangina, the village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where the epidemic was declared, saw health workers in protective suits administering the injections.

So far 43 people are believed to have been infected in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, including 36 who have died, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

“We are putting all our energy and all our expertise to quickly control this epidemic,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga told journalists at the start of the vaccination campaign.

“All the measures of prevention are in place. The vaccination is the last phase. It will enable us to break the chain of transmission of this epidemic.”

More than 900 contacts of those infected have been identified for monitoring, although security is an issue in the area where militia groups operate, WHO said.

The disease, which causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, is spread through direct contact with body fluids.

“Around 40 health workers are expected to be vaccinated today; by end of the week, once all the necessary steps are in place, vaccination of community contacts and their contacts will commence,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

WHO has said that analysis of genetic sequencing showed it was a separate outbreak from the one 2,500 km (1,500 miles) away in the northwest that ended less than two weeks ago after killing 33 people — but the same Zaire strain.

This is Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak since the virus was first identified near northern Congo’s Ebola river.

“There is a huge fear among the local population,” Kaswera Mathumo, a medical worker at a clinic in Mangina, where the vaccinations were taking place, said.

The experimental vaccine being used, which is manufactured by Merck, proved successful during its first wide-scale usage against the previous outbreak in Equateur Province.

More than 3,000 doses remain in stock in the capital Kinshasa, allowing authorities to deploy them quickly to affected areas.

But they face security challenges in eastern Congo, a region bubbling with conflicts over land and ethnicity stoked by decades of on-off war.

Local authorities announced on Tuesday that 14 bodies had been discovered in the town of Tubameme, about 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the epicenter of the outbreak in the town of Mangina, suspected to have been killed by a militia group.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Tim Cocks and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)