Published By: Build Health International

BHI Board Chair Patricia Meservey Writes Op-Ed for CommonWealth Magazine

For World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Build Health International Board Chair Patricia Meservey wrote about several important infrastructure considerations necessary to supporting and protecting healthcare workers. Read the full op-ed here

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AMONG THE NEARLY 3 million people worldwide who have died from COVID-19 are thousands of frontline healthcare workers – doctors, nurses, and others – many of whom contracted the virus while caring for infected patients. While healthcare workers around the world have been celebrated for their bravery and commitment, the pandemic has underscored the personal risk they take on in order to provide care. Wednesday marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and honoring the heroic work that doctors, nurses, and other providers do every day requires meaningful investment in solutions that will help them do their jobs more safely and effectively, including high-quality healthcare infrastructure.

As a nurse, I know firsthand the importance of working in high-quality, thoughtfully designed settings. From using design to thwart the spread of infectious diseases, to creating barriers to external threat – everything from gun violence to environmental hazards, to ensuring that critical equipment functions safely – physical infrastructure is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting both patients and staff.

COVID-19 has highlighted the risks facing doctors, nurses, and other staff in healthcare settings, but the challenges are not new – and they are especially pronounced in regions with fewer health resources. In many low- and middle-income countries, existing healthcare infrastructure is outdated and at risk of being overwhelmed by pandemics, infectious disease outbreaks, and even daily challenges created by the social, political, and environmental conditions in particular regions.

The consequences can be devastating. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014, more than 500 health workers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone died; in Liberia, specifically, 8 percent of all doctors, nurses, and midwives succumbed to the virus. There were many factors that contributed to the death toll, but infrastructure and equipment challenges that made effective isolation and safe treatment difficult played a large part.

Creating safe physical environments requires an intentional focus on a number of interrelated priorities. Particularly in the context of infectious disease outbreaks, the ability to effectively isolate patients, create sterile environments, and prevent “community spread” within the hospital or clinic is critical, and has everything to do with how healthcare facilities are designed, laid out, and constructed.

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Read the full op-ed here