The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

By Abel Merawi

Healthcare-Workers-Ethiopia-COVID-19April 27, 2020 ( -- Whenever there is danger around, the evolutionary and natural instinct of every human being is to run away. But the modern system with division of labor has made some face danger despite the consequences. Instead of running away, people in certain professions run toward danger. At the top of the list, we find heroes such as soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and healthcare workers. When there is a national threat, it is the soldiers who courageously stand in the front line. Whenever we encounter dangers in our everyday dealings, we call the police. The only people who run towards a blazing fire, even more courageously than the owners of a property, are firefighters. Above all, with the current pandemic of COVID-19, it is the healthcare workers who stand guard to rescue the human race.  

The task of healthcare workers is indeed heroic. It is these people who have diligently worked to save us from the horrific diseases we fear to even discuss. The years they spend to gain knowledge of numerous diseases can help them better handle already existing diseases. When the cause, symptom, effect, and prevention mechanism of a certain disease is already known, it makes the work of healthcare workers fairly simpler and rewarding. But how are they to deal with a new disease? How can we expect them to protect us from the novel coronavirus? Such is the deadly mission they are expected to execute. They risk their lives to fight an unknown enemy. Some might argue that it is their duty, but is it really a duty to face the dangers of an unidentified pandemic?

Currently, healthcare workers are risking their lives to save lives. By the beginning of March, the National Health Commission of China reported that more than 3,300 healthcare workers have been infected by COVID-19. It also reported that at least 22 have died by the end of February. The case in Italy is also dire; as reported in ‘The Lancet’ about 20% of healthcare workers have been affected by the virus. With the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, the risk of healthcare workers is increasing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported on April 8, 2020, that 22,073 healthcare workers across 52 countries and regions have been infected by COVID-19.

Just like the rest of us, healthcare workers also have a personal life they want to protect. We are told to stay home, and even that seems impossible for some people. These heroes, on the other hand, are told to leave the safety of their homes and go to the exact place with a high spread rate of the pandemic. The quarantines are run by them, the reported cases are dealt with by them, and they are expected to handle any danger. They are not only risking their own lives, but they are also putting their family at risk. They may have children waiting at home or aging parents who rely on them. It is against all these odds that they fight against pandemics like the ancient heroes that save the day. But unlike the fictional heroes, they are not well-equipped.

These modern-day heroes are under-staffed and under-equipped. The WHO has given emphasis to this situation and stated that personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided to healthcare workers. It also requested that decent living conditions must be provided as it is their right. However, the situation in each country depends on the economic capacity and priority of the government. Despite the call of WHO, the provision of PPE is not properly met. As Al Jazeera's Sara Khairat reports, “A global shortage of protective equipment has added to the huge toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.” So it is not enough to provide for their physical wellbeing because the psychological burden also needs to be addressed.

There are moments in life when you know something bad is going to happen but cannot do anything to prevent it. Such moments make us feel powerless. This is the daily feeling of healthcare workers as they see a patient die in front of them. With no cure or vaccination for COVID-19, the probability of death for the infected is higher. Witnessing people die every day, at the very least, creates mental stress. They are expected to comfort the family of victims, but there is no one to comfort them. In addition, their constant call for duty without a foreseeable end to the pandemic is truly exhausting and nerve-wracking. As an article in ‘The Lancet’ stated, “Health-care systems globally could be operating at more than maximum capacity for many months. But health-care workers, unlike ventilators or wards, cannot be urgently manufactured or run at 100% occupancy for long periods.” For this reason, each government needs to set up a system to maintain the physical and mental wellbeing of healthcare workers.

While the above problems are shared globally by all healthcare workers, the situation becomes even worse in developing countries. Just to get a glimpse of the problem, let us take the already existing condition in the Ethiopian healthcare system. In discussing the ratio of physicians to the overall population of Ethiopia, the 2017 ‘CIA World Fact-book’ shows that the proportion is of 0.1 physicians/1,000 population. It further explains, “The World Health Organization estimates that fewer than 2.3 health workers (physicians, nurses, and midwives only) per 1,000 would be insufficient to achieve coverage of primary healthcare needs.” If this is the situation under normal conditions, it is almost impossible for such a country to handle a COVID-19 outbreak.

The burden of healthcare workers is noticed and appreciated by the population of the world. The standing ovations and the various social and mainstream media recognitions given by people across the globe are certainly encouraging. We should continue to pay homage to the healthcare workers who tirelessly defend us all. To show we truly care about them, we need to really take care of ourselves. We need to strictly follow their instructions. By properly using personal protective equipment (PPE) and through physical distancing, we can save lives and ease the burden of healthcare workers. More importantly, the government of every nation should create a system to protect their physical and mental health.  


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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