More than 7,000 health worker deaths from COVID-19 globally - UK deaths third-highest

Some countries have seen very large numbers of health worker deaths © Amnesty International

649 deaths in UK - third-highest reported figure for any country globally

Social care worker deaths make up more than half of UK total (325)

‘For over seven thousand people to die while trying to save others is a crisis on a staggering scale’ ­- Stephen Cockburn

New analysis by Amnesty International has found that at least 7,000 health workers have died around the world after contracting COVID-19 - with 649 deaths in the UK, the third-highest reported figure for any country globally.

Issued as an update on global figures first produced by Amnesty in July, Amnesty cautioned that the numbers for countries may not always be directly comparable due to different methods used to collect data, and varying definitions of health workers in different countries.

Commending the UK’s transparency in counting the deaths of social care workers as well as health care workers - with social care worker deaths (325) making up more than half of the overall total, Amnesty said that the number of deaths in the UK is nonetheless woefully high.

At least 1,320 health workers are confirmed to have died in Mexico alone, the highest known figure for any country. Amnesty also recorded high numbers of health worker deaths in the USA (1,077) and Brazil (634), where infection and death rates have been high throughout the pandemic, as well as alarming figures in South Africa (240) and India (573), where infection rates have soared in recent months.

Stephen Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said:

“For over seven thousand people to die while trying to save others is a crisis on a staggering scale.

“Throughout the pandemic governments have hailed health workers as heroes, but this rings hollow when so many workers are dying from a lack of basic protection.

“Every health worker has the right to be safe at work, and it is a scandal that so many are paying the ultimate price.

“Many months into the pandemic, health workers are still dying at horrific rates in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and the USA, while the rapid spread of infections in South Africa and India show the need for all states to take action.

“There must be global cooperation to ensure all health workers are provided with adequate protective equipment, so they can continue their vital work without risking their own lives.”

July report

In a 13 July report Amnesty found that more than 3,000 health workers had died after contracting COVID-19. The latest figures are driven by increasing rates of COVID-19 in several countries, as well as the availability of new data sources. The countries with the highest estimated numbers of health workers who have died from COVID-19 include: Mexico (1,320), USA (1,077), UK (649), Brazil (634), Russia (631), India (573), South Africa (240), Italy (188), Peru (183), Iran (164) and Egypt (159).

South Africa strike

The new figures come amid widespread industrial action in South Africa. Today the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union is expected to protest outside parliament, with plans for a nationwide strike on 10 September if demands are not met. The government has so far failed to meet the demands of workers, which include the adequate provision of personal protective equipment active involvement of workers in occupational health and safety committees at workplaces, psychosocial support, transport, and hazard pay for frontline workers. By early August, at least 240 health workers were known to have died in South Africa after contracting COVID-19. The country has experienced a surge in coronavirus-related deaths since July, and now has more than half a million confirmed cases.

Surge in India

India has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent months, with more than 3,690,000 confirmed cases across the country, and more than 65,000 deaths. Figures from the Ministry of Health reported last week state that more than 87,000 health workers have been infected, and 573 have died. Over half of the health worker deaths (292) occurred in the state of Maharashtra. In August, hundreds of thousands of community health workers went on strike to demand adequate PPE, better pay and working conditions.

1,320 deaths in Mexico

The number of COVID-19 infections has recently passed seven million in Latin America, and Amnesty  recorded especially high numbers of health worker deaths in Mexico (1320), Brazil (634) and Peru (183).

In Mexico, the official health worker death toll is a staggering 1,320. As of 25 August, the Mexican Ministry of Health confirmed 97,632 coronavirus cases among health workers. There have been reports that hospital cleaners in Mexico are especially vulnerable to infection, with many cleaning jobs outsourced resulting in less protection.

The Mexican government has been keeping a detailed registry of health worker deaths, with disaggregated data on age, gender and profession. Such transparency is essential and all countries should be making this kind of detail available; it may also go some way to explaining the disturbing figures from Mexico relative to other countries.

Lack of PPE and clear protocols in Brazil

In Brazil, at least 634 health workers have died from COVID-19. According to Associação Brasileira de Saúde Coletiva a health professional association, health workers have complained about insufficient PPE, a lack of clear protocols to manage infections, the absence of mental health support, minimal social protection for family members, and precarious contracts for those recruited on an emergency basis.

Methodology

Working with a data scientist, Amnesty regularly reviews and collates data related to deaths among health care workers from multiple sources. Sources include: memorial pages, government figures, lists compiled by national medical associations, and lists and obituaries published in media around the world. All sources and explanatory information are available on the online interactive map.

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