Healthcare staff face hard times as doctors test positive for coronavirus

Sunday August 2 2020

Coronavirus infections have not spared

Coronavirus infections have not spared healthcare workers, further straining the country's health infrastructure. Photo | Cyril Ndegeya  

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An increase in coronavirus cases across the country is putting lives of healthcare workers at risk as 10 medical staff have reportedly tested positive.

Pressure on the country’s health infrastructure has increased in recent months as mass testing continues across the country.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the country has recorded 1,821 positive cases with 918 recoveries and five deaths.

In total, Rwanda has conducted 242,129 Covid-19 sample tests. While official figures have not been released, Rwanda Today has learnt that over 10 healthcare workers have contracted the virus in Rwanda since the first case was reported on March 14, according to officials at the Ministry of Health.

“Nine Rwandan health workers and over five Congolese doctors with Rwandan working permits have contracted the novel coronavirus,” said Dr Menelas Nkeshimana, officer in charge of Covid-19 Case Management and head of emergency department at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).

“The growth we are seeing in coronavirus cases has put a strain on health services across the country hence putting health workers in danger of contracting the virus,” said Dr Menelas.


Mr Nkeshimana said a big number of Congolese healthcare workers in Rwanda who contracted the virus got it from the Democratic Republic of Congo when they had gone for a vacation before the closure of borders.
Rwandan doctors with the virus got it from patients they were attending to in their respective treatment centers, he added.
“We do not have a specific number of doctors attending to Covid-19 patients because every doctor, nurse, surgeon, midwife, or receptionist in their respective working place are at a high risk of contracting the virus,” said Mr Nkeshimana,

adding that new measures have been put in place to protect healthcare workers including increasing access to personal protection equipment and regular training on the disease and updates on new protection measures, and redesigning the emergency unit of the hospitals treating Covid-19-patients.

In addition, the robots recently deployed in treatment centers have helped reduce worker’s exposure to the virus where they help in monitoring patient’s vital signs including temperature, heart rate, blood and oxygen levels and give a response to doctors and nurses remotely.

Emergency units in all hospitals now have two waiting rooms where on is dedicated to suspected cases of coronavirus while the other for usual emergency health treatment for other health conditions.

Before the pandemic, hospitals only had one waiting room for the emergency unit.

This has helped to protect healthcare workers and patients in the emergency department from having contacts with many people and one of the recommended measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

According to Dr Apollinaire Manirafasha, another frontline doctor, having fellow medical workers

catching the virus, it is a wakeup call, saying everyone is required to advance carefulness while attending to patients whether the suspect or with other health conditions.

"We wear protective gear before interacting with patients. I change clothes after work and also removes them before entering my home to minimise the risk to my family," says Dr Manirafasha.

Protective measures

He said that changing clothes and regular washing of hands and taking other protective measures is his way of keeping the family and friends safe, but some of his fellow doctors decided to stay in hotels and have not gone back home since their first day of attending to coronavirus patients.

“When we recorded the first case of coronavirus in the country I was scared of it but not so much like today where even doctors with infectious skills are catching it easily,” he says.

Although he has experience with other pandemics such as Ebola and SARS that broke out 2002 claiming hundreds of lives, Dr Manirafasha. Says COVID-19 is more intense requiring medics to be careful.

“This has real consequences for the individuals who work with them because if one doctor contracts the disease, the entire hospital is put under short time quarantine which may also hinder the provision of other services,” he says.

Dr Nkeshimana said there is enough personal protective equipment but weak infection prevention and control measures are the main reasons making health workers contracting the virus.

He said like in many other counties where healthcare workers have contracted the virus, Rwanda is not exceptional because the virus spreads easily and requires strong infection preventions.