Volunteer healthcare workers at the Gbagada and Onikan isolation centres in Lagos say the state government exposes them to risks of COVID-19 infection by compelling them to use one N95 face mask for two weeks while attending to patients, oyogist.com reports.
According to the World Health Organisation guidelines, a face mask is supposed to be used once and discarded by health workers attending to COVID-19 patients or any patient undergoing treatment for any contagious disease.
One of the health workers at the Gbagada isolation centre, who spoke with our Correspondent on condition of anonymity, alleged that once any of them was through with the day’s shift, the face mask was collected, labelled and dropped into a central basket for use the next day.
“When you resume, you will look for your own mask among the heap in the basket. I feel violated wearing my N95 face mask for two weeks,” the health worker said.
Since Nigeria’s COVID-19 index case — an Italian — was recorded in Lagos in February, the Lagos State government had made use of face masks compulsory for health workers and residents in public places.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said face mask use would help to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, also said the wearing of face masks protects people around an infected person.
The aggrieved health workers said their lives were on the line, lamenting that they could not adhere strictly to globally accepted guidelines that specifically recommended that all Personal Protective Equipment used by health workers be discarded after use.
“We are well aware of the dangers associated with using a face mask more than once, especially when dealing directly with infected patients, but we are left with no choice,” one of them said.
Lamenting what they described as “ill-treatment” of their colleagues that have tested positive to the virus and are on admission at the Agidingbi Isolation Centre, which is earmarked for healthcare personnel, the health workers said their colleagues deserved better.
One of them said aside from being infected and left to their fate, they are being disengaged with any form of payment, emolument or insurance coverage.
“Even though we are volunteers, we deserve better treatment.
“Our colleagues were not fed the day they were admitted into the isolation centre, but were administered drugs. It was disheartening.
“We are being treated unjustly by a system we volunteered to work for. We deserve better than this. Our sick colleagues deserve better,” the health worker said.
The complaints are coming in the wake of a revelation by the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, that 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in the country.
The issue of health workers’ exposure to COVID-19 has always made the Nigeria Medical Association to clash with authorities, having complained that its members are unduly exposed to the contagion by being made to work without adequate PPE.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation in its guidance document, ‘Rational use of PPE in the context of COVID-19,’ ‘stressed the need for medical face masks and respirators to be prioritized for health workers, noting that it is one of the preventive measures that could limit spread of the respiratory illness.
“Use a particulate respirator at least as protective, certified N95 European Union Standard FFP2, or equivalent when performing or working in environment where aerosol-generating procedures are carried out,” US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health counsels.
WHO, however, mandated that for any type of mask, appropriate use and disposal are essential to ensure that they are effective and to avoid any increase in transmission.
“After removal or whenever a used mask is inadvertently touched, clean hands, using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
“Replace masks as soon as they become damp with a new, clean, dry mask. Do not re-use single-use masks.
“Discard single-use mask after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal,” WHO advised.
When contacted for comments on the allegations made by the volunteer health workers, the Lagos State Government did not respond.
Text messages were sent to the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi; the Public Relations Director at the state health ministry, Mr. Tunbosun Ogunbanwo; and the Senior Special Assistant on Health.
The messages were intended for them to react to the allegations made by the volunteer health workers that they are compelled to wear one N95 face masks for two weeks.
Also, our Correspondent sought to now if the governement was aware that front line health workers infected with COVID-19 and on admissions at the Agidingbi isolation centre were not being treated well as alleged.
Up until the time of filing this report, no response has been received from any of them.
See some of the discarded masks below;