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Coronavirus takes a toll on frontline caregivers as over 13,000 South African health workers get infected

South Africa holds the highest number of infections on the continent with 408,052 recorded cases and 5,940 deaths so far.

It is also the world’s fifth worst-affected country in terms of diagnosed infections.

Health ministry spokesperson Popo Maja said that 13,174 health workers had become infected as of Tuesday, including 103 deaths and 6,394 people declared recovered.

South Africa’s statistics were unveiled as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 10,000 health workers in 40 countries had been sickened by the virus.

“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, at a news conference on Thursday.

“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this than the rising number of health worker infections,” she said.

A combination of a recent spike in infections, staff shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been blamed for the infection increases.

A recent report by South Africa’s National Institute for Occupational Health said hospital admissions of health workers were increasing weekly in line with the national trend of rising numbers of admissions. The data revealed that by July 12, some 2.6 percent of COVID-19 hospital admissions in South Africa were healthcare workers.

Those infected included nurses, doctors, porters, administrators, paramedics and laboratory scientists.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament earlier this month that “since the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE supply chains have become severely constrained”.

WHO Africa chief Moeti said it was critical to ensure health workers “have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe”.

Sub-Saharan Africa has recorded more than 750,000 coronavirus cases, including 15,000 deaths.

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