Just 14.2% of health professionals feel prepared to tackle COVID-19, survey reveals

The interviewers found that 91.25% of community health agents and endemic disease control agents are afraid of catching the disease. Among nursing professionals and doctors, the numbers are 84.31% and 77.68%, respectively.
Public Policy
28 May 2020
Just 14.2% of health professionals feel prepared to tackle COVID-19, survey reveals

The Bureaucracy Studies Center (NEB) at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP) recently carried out a survey called “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Public Health Professionals in Brazil.” Among other results, it was found that just 14.2% of interviewed health sector professionals feel prepared to deal with COVID-19. Most of them (64.97%) said they are unprepared, while the remainder declined to answer the question.

The survey also found that health professionals in Brazil’s North and Northeast regions feel the most helpless. Breaking down professionals by groups, community health agents and endemic disease control agents feel the least prepared. Just 7.61% of them feel ready to tackle the crisis. The figure for nursing professionals – just 20.09% – is also worryingly low.

According to the survey, more than 55% of health professionals know a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient. As a result, fear is a common feeling among these people, regardless of where they live or their level of medical care. The interviewers found that 91.25% of community health agents and endemic disease control agents are afraid of catching the disease. Among nursing professionals and doctors, the numbers are 84.31% and 77.68%, respectively.

“This survey shows that the professionals on whom we depend the most to tackle the pandemic are in a state of extreme vulnerability. There are shortages of personal protective equipment, there isn’t enough information and support from the government, and most people do not feel well placed to deal with the crisis. This puts these professionals in a very fragile situation, as they need to be on the front line, but they are afraid that they may get sick and become a vector of infection,” says Gabriela Lotta, NEB’s coordinator and FGV EAESP professor.

Personal protective equipment and training

According to the survey, just 32% of professionals said they had been given personal protective equipment. Among community health agents and endemic disease control agents, the figure was a mere 19.65%.

“Working without the proper PPE creates a very high risk of infection, for both professionals and patients. It also makes professionals feel more insecure and feeds hostility among patients,” Lotta explains.

With regard to governmental support, more than half of the interviewees said they feel unsupported by the government. The number is 67% when it specifically refers to the federal government and 51% in the case of state governments. Regarding support from managers, 71.82% of professionals said they haven’t perceived any backing of this kind. Just 21.91% said they have received training, and most of them were physicians.

“The way professionals are being exposed without any support, equipment and information is very serious. It is as if they had been sent to war blindfolded and unarmed. If the state cannot look after its own workers, how can we expect it to look after the population? We are reliant on acts of heroism,” Lotta says.

Relationship with patients

The survey also looked at how the crisis has altered work processes and interactions between professionals and patients. Three out of four interviewees said that the crisis has altered their routines, in terms of work flows, procedures, different priorities and new technologies, among other changes.

Furthermore, 88% of professionals said that the crisis has altered the way they interact with patients. The biggest impact is related to physical distancing.

“These issues are very important for health, especially primary care, in which everyday contact and physical touch are key to building bonds with families. One community health agent said it is terrible not to be able to take hold of a patient’s hand and say that everything will be OK. So, the crisis has major impacts that go beyond COVID-19, affecting the way professionals interact with patients,” Lotta says.

Methodology

The online survey covered 1,456 public health professionals, at all levels of care and in all the country’s regions, between April 15 and May 1, 2020.

In terms of gender, 79% of the participants were women, 19.6% were men and fewer than 1% preferred not to say. Regarding length of career, 64.84% of the professionals have been working in their respective field for more than 10 years and 65% have long-standing ties with the location where they work or they were born in the region.