Hot, tired and dirty, my first thought upon arrival in Tanzania was how much I had missed Africa. The 35-minute drive from the airport to my hotel provided moving snapshots of life in Mwanza. The streets were busy and bustling with colors, people, traffic, the sound of horns honking and motorbikes roaring. I sank back into the shuttle’s seat, feeling completely and utterly elated.
Hours later, I awoke with excitement, knowing that I would soon see first-hand our Health Workforce Safety (HWS) program at Bugando Medical Centre (BMC), a three-year initiative aimed at addressing the health and occupational hazards for both health workers and hospital patients. As I walked through BMC’s vast hallways during a hospital tour, the program’s impact was clearly visible. I saw the AmeriCares logo on doors, waste bins, equipment, supply cabinets–simply put, everywhere. Health workers appeared content and devoted to their daily task of providing patient care. The hospital provides a clean and safe environment for patients and health workers alike.
Seeing these accomplishments made me look forward to the program’s scale-out to three selected hospitals.
While working closely with our local consultant team and the HWS program’s technical advisor, my expectations of what we would observe at these selected hospitals during the baseline were formed. We would undoubtedly find shortages in the availability and supply of personal protective equipment; safety engineered devices; gaps in the hospitals’ ability to vaccinate all of their health workers; infrastructural challenges, and much more.
However, what we did observe was more unsettling than I had anticipated. I was struck by the lack of sanitation in some of the hospitals—some more so than others. It was disturbing to see the mingling and mixing of infectious waste such as used needle-sticks with non-infectious waste, as well as the evident lack of waste segregation practices. During my conversations with health workers at these sites, it became apparent that many were unhappy, demotivated and felt stagnant in their positions. Much of this was attributed to the unavailability of necessary resources to aid them in effectively carrying out their responsibilities—a direct consequence of considerably limited funding available to support hospital operations. Glaring was the realization that health workers held little regard for themselves and their safety.
There is a clear, crucial need for the HWS program at these institutions.
Although my take-aways from the baseline assessments were numerous, one stuck with me: essential aggressive behavior change interventions, coupled with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of health workers, will revitalize and empower these most valued members of the workforce.