Lack of protective equipment preparation led to spike in frontline healthcare worker deaths

GlobalData Healthcare 21 May 2020 (Last Updated May 21st, 2020 09:10)

Lack of protective equipment preparation led to spike in frontline healthcare worker deaths

In April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report indicating an estimated 27 healthcare worker deaths due to Covid-19. Cases of the disease began to rise in the US in late February and early March of this year. There is no standardised way to track healthcare worker deaths, and reporting by The Guardian suggests that the death toll among frontline workers is far greater than what the CDC has estimated. A collaboration between The Guardian and Kaiser Health News, titled “Lost on the front line”, reports healthcare worker deaths amid the Covid-19 global pandemic and documents nearly 50 nurses, doctors, and emergency medical technicians, in addition to many other frontline healthcare workers. In March and into April, Covid-19 cases spiked quickly in several hotspots in the US, such as New York City, putting stress on stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. This lack of PPE has put frontline workers at risk of developing Covid-19.

A 2005 study by Sepkowitz and Eisenberg from the Memorial-Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School estimated a hospital-acquired infection annual death rate among frontline healthcare workers to be 17–57 per million employed. From the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 9,000,000 frontline hospital-based workers in the US. Given the estimated study rates of death from all infections, there would be an estimated 30 deaths per month. Covid-19 deaths alone have far surpassed this number. Healthcare providers across the US have been demanding better access to PPE. A recent survey launched by GetUsPPE.org suggested that stockpiles of masks, face shields, gowns, and thermometers were either spent or would last less than one more week, according to about 50% of respondents. Although the daily Covid-19 cases in the US appear to have plateaued, the caseload continues to mount. Robust levels of PPE will be required to keep frontline staff safe and healthy while treating these cases.

Similar trends can be seen in other hard-hit countries, such as the UK, where it has been reported that over 100 frontline healthcare workers have died of Covid-19. With an estimated 800,000 frontline staff, all-cause infection deaths should be around 30 per year. Covid-19 deaths have surpassed this number in just a few months, raising alarms that adequate PPE stores must be provided in order to protect frontline workers from infection.

Global PPE supply chains have been heavily impacted by the spike in demand and have led to highly unusual tactics of acquisition. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that international buyers are offering cash directly to overseas facilities to secure and acquire manufactured PPE. GlobalData expects the global demand for hospital PPE to remain high over the next few months as manufacturers scramble to generate enough product to meet this new demand. Once the pandemic has begun to subside, countries will still want to bolster their supplies in the event of a Covid-19 resurgence and for future pandemics.