In an unprecedented show of appreciation to Nigeria’s healthcare workers, at exactly 10 pm on Friday, all staff of FirstBank transformed the social media world and got many Nigerians to do same, through their various Profile or Display Pictures, using unique photo messages dedicated to healthcare workers, who are battling the coronavirus pandemic in the frontlines, with a hashtag #FirstBankSalutes.

In one of the pictures captioned ‘We salute our frontline warriors,’ a healthcare worker is seen dressed in personal protective equipment, geared up for the daunting task at hand and a message underneath the picture read: “no capes, just lab coats. No superhuman capability, just dedication, strength and compassion. As we play our parts by staying at home, we thank our medical professionals for being our Avengers”.

Another picture captioned ‘The world called and they responded’ has the picture of a nose/mouth mask and a stethoscope. The message underneath read: “There are many ways to say thank you to the medical professionals tackling COVID-19 and putting you first like FirstBank. One of them is to stay at home, another is to share this message with someone”.

Indeed, the ongoing battle to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic is nothing short of an epic war raging on a global scale, with healthcare workers at the frontline. Many philanthropists and organisations including FirstBank have donated various sums and healthcare equipment, beefing up needed arsenal to combat the pandemic, however, morale boosters in the form and magnitude of the FirstBank appreciation initiative is a first in Nigeria.

“Healthcare workers are essentially the main response pillars that we have,” said Jan-Eric Larsen, from Operations Support and Logistics at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Western Pacific in a video tweet. “Without the healthcare workers, we won’t be able to stop this transmission in time.”

According to statistics from previous outbreaks of infectious disease, and in other countries where the current pandemic arrived earlier, health-care workers experienced a disproportionate share of infections, due to many factors, but first, they were put at risk by the nature of their jobs.

According to President of the American College of Emergency Physicians, William Jaquis, “As emergency physicians, we know the risks of our calling.”

The WHO also noted that being at the front line of any outbreak response exposes healthcare workers to hazards that put them at risk of infection with a pathogen (in this case COVID-19).

Other hazards listed by WHO include: long working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence.

Revealing why healthcare workers selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to help save others, Bonnie Castillo, head of the 150,000-member National Nurses United, the largest nurses union, said “Nurses take risks every day because they’re willing to do that, they’re called to do that, and they want to do that.”

However, that is not to say that healthcare workers don’t exactly fear for their lives, they do. Which is why they demand that adequate protective equipment be made available to them, as they go into the thick of battle, where the risk of contact with the pathogen becomes extremely high.

Doctors have been reporting increased anxiety, fearing they will not only expose themselves to the virus but also their families and their communities. This is because providers risk contracting the disease as they try to treat patients who are ill, but not yet diagnosed.

The stark reality of the battlefront in this war against the COVID-19 pandemic is exactly what it is – scary. And only the brave can confront it. These courageous heroes after putting their lives on the line for others could end up being isolated from family and friends, in a world where hospitals can be stigmatized as “incubators of infection”.

A new study examined the mental health of nearly 1,300 healthcare workers in China who dealt with COVID-19 patients, looking at symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.

Specifically, frontline healthcare workers were 52.0% more likely to have symptoms of depression, 57.0% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, 60.0% more likely to experience distress, and almost three times more likely to have insomnia than those who were not on the frontline.

These workers may be at a heightened risk of psychological distress and other mental health problems, write the authors, due to the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the overwhelming workload, an information overload, and insufficient personal protective equipment and drugs.

As Nigeria sees the number of infected cases going up amid efforts to track exposed contacts, the bravery of the men and women in the healthcare sector, who are up in arms against the dreaded COVID-19, must be appreciated, considering that there is still no end in sight to the scourge yet.

Lots of support (financial and material) have flowed in from many quarters since the index case was announced 27 February, the tally of infected cases now stands at 210 as at 04 April, however little to nothing has been done to boost the mental morale of healthcare workers in Nigeria until this initiative by FirstBank.

According to Siddharth Chatterjee, United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya: “We must do everything to support health workers who, despite their own well-founded fears, are stepping directly into COVID-19’s path to aid the afflicted and help halt the virus’s spread.

“Like soldiers, health workers also face considerable mental stress. It is often forgotten that as humans, they feel the sorrow of loss when their patients succumb to the virus. They too have families, and so will also naturally be fearful that the virus might reach those they love most.

As FirstBank’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr.  Adesola Adeduntan, remarked in a broadcast message, “Selflessness and resilience in the face of adversity stand us out and are the hallmark of heroes.”

He applauded health workers; doctors, nurses, all hospital staff and indeed everyone else providing essential services; for giving the best of themselves continuously, in delivering essential care in the face of this global challenge presented to humanity, at great and grave personal risk.

“All of us at FirstBank acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of our unsung heroes, the front line Nigerians who toil day and night to care for us and keep us all safe as we collectively fight this battle we face. We add our prayers to that of all Nigerians and lift you up at this time with all we can offer.

“To that end, it is our hope that our ‘Thank you’ in its simplicity can go some way to expressing our deep and profound gratitude in recognition of your service to humanity,” he said.

In appreciating these brave healthcare workers, Nigerians should not forget these words of Chatterjee: “COVID-19 will not be the last dangerous microbe we see. The heroism, dedication and selflessness of medical staff allow the rest of us a degree of reassurance that we will overcome this virus.

“We must give these health workers all the support they need to do their jobs, be safe and stay alive…”

By Felix Onajite

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