On the COVID-19 frontlines, guidelines help health workers to stay safe in uncertain times
UNICEF is working with partners to provide guidelines and supplies for health workers to carry out their jobs safely and effectively during the pandemic
“We are working for you. Please stay at home for us.”
Most of us have seen these words in our social media feeds, written on signs held by health workers urging people to do their part to slow the spread of the virus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
For most health workers, staying at home is not an option. Their jobs require them to be on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, toiling in health facilities so that everyone can receive medical attention. In the midst of this crisis, however, it can be easy to forget that many doctors and nurses are operating in uncharted territory, often without the equipment needed to protect their own health.
“My colleagues and I are feeling worried and anxious,” said Sri Mulyani, the midwives coordinator at the Kuripan community health centre in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. “But we’re willing to do our jobs.”
In response to their needs, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health to develop guidelines for health workers on how to take proper safety measures when delivering medical services, particularly for children and mothers, during the pandemic. UNICEF is also supporting the Ministry of Health with the procurement of medical supplies, including masks, gloves, thermometers and PPE.
“This is the first time we’ve dealt with a pandemic, so the standards are still unclear,” said Sri Mulyani. “These guidelines provide instructions on how we should do our work.”
To disseminate these guidelines and provide a better understanding of how they should be implemented, a series of online workshops was held with representatives from provincial, district and community health offices across the country.
“We need to consider how services can still be delivered while the principles of breaking the chain of transmission are still implemented,” said Dr. Kirana Pritasari, the Director General of Public Health during the opening of one of the workshops. “These documents have been developed to provide guidelines on how to do this.”
Dr. Pritasari urged the attendees to share this information with all health workers, including private doctors, midwives and health workers in community health centres, as well as the public so that they know where to go if they need medical treatment.
As the virus spreads to other provinces in Indonesia, the need to start taking steps that keep health workers safe is becoming more urgent. On the island of Lombok, the Narmada community health centre has reported COVID-19 cases in three of the 11 villages it covers.
Staff there have already taken precautionary measures in line with the new guidelines, in part because of a shortage of PPE. This includes limiting face-to-face interactions and using phones and the internet to check up on their patients virtually.
“I’ve told the village midwives that only high-risk patients, patients with abnormalities or those who need further referral should be coming to the health centre,” explained Rita Sosilo, the midwives coordinator. “If the village midwife can handle the patient by themselves, there’s no need for pregnant mothers to come to the health centre.”
For Sri Mulyani, the guidelines are a necessary part of carrying out the work of midwives. Critical interventions for pregnant mothers and newborns, who are both high-risk groups, cannot afford to be disrupted.
“Pregnant mothers have weaker immune systems, so they’re more vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “It’s essential to keep providing services for them, while keeping health workers safe.”
UNICEF is grateful to the Government of Japan for their ongoing support to keep the most vulnerable children healthy and protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.