From the moment we come into this world, to the time throughout our lives, when we are hurt or sick or need help, health workers are there for us. They are the core of the health care system. It’s hard to imagine where this country would be without them. But the truth is they are now struggling with burnout to the point of crisis.
Health experts describe burnout as a long-term stress reaction defined by having at least one of the following symptoms: 1) emotional exhaustion 2) depersonalization, including cynicism and a lack of empathy; and 3) a low sense of personal accomplishment.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, health workers faced major challenges from being low in number, little pay, lack of all the resources needed for their work, lack of amenities and sheer lack of support systems as well as essential medical supplies. Health workers sacrifice a lot, sometimes including their own lives, to take care of the sick especially in government health facilities.
Recently the Ministry of Health reported that 14% of Ugandans have at least one mental health condition and that Uganda boasts of high levels of depression and anxiety on the African continent but the sad news is that among those suffering are our health workers.
Healthcare worker burnout can have negative consequences such as insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, isolation, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, relationship and interpersonal challenges, medical errors, decreased patient satisfaction, increased health disparities
There have been reports of health workers being absent on duty, abusing drugs, being rude to patients among other complaints from patients but all these are attributed to burnout that health workers experience at work. Many have resigned and others left the country for better working conditions leaving a few senior and experienced health workers to take care of ever-increasing general population.
The Ministry of Health Human Resources for Health (HRH) 2019/2020 indicates that specialized hospitals and National Referral Hospitals have less than 60% of the required health force with Kiruddu NRH having just 29%. The situation is not any better in general hospitals and Health centers IVs and IIIs.
With the current disease burden and the increasing pandemic threats, the health care system is at a high risk if nothing is done to improve the well-being of health workers.
Doctors, nurses, laboratory professionals and other public health care workers need support from everybody to thrive which calls for government and private health employers to take urgent action to manage health worker burnout. Holistic health worker well-being must be prioritized. This means increasing their remuneration, increasing staff levels, providing staff wellness facilities, among other amenities for them to easily do their work and support their mental health. The general public can also help by being kind to the health workers, recognizing the stress that they are under and by taking care of their health the best way possible.
It’s time for us to take care for those who have always been there for us.
Musiime Elias is a Laboratory Technologist and Executive Director-Ubora Foundation Africa