Two weeks after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, Dr. Adil El Tayar, a famed organ transplant surgeon in the United Kingdom contracted the virus tending to his patients in hospital. He died on 25 March, five days after testing positive for the disease.
Dr. El Tayar is the first health professional to die in the United Kingdom of Covid-19 and one of many frontline health workers who have risked and lost their lives over the last few months in the growing, global battle to contain the virus and treat the increasing numbers of critically ill.
Last week, it was reported that nine of Indonesia’s 55 reported deaths were doctors and nurses. In Italy, more than 60 doctors have died and in total 8,358 healthcare workers have contracted the virus, as of 31 March and on Monday Spanish authorities announced nearly 12,300 health workers have tested positive for the virus.
Originally from Sudan, Dr. El Tayar worked in hospitals in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He is one of a huge number of migrant health professionals that constitute a vital workforce worldwide, making enormous contributions to tackling Covid-19 in worsening circumstances.
The number of confirmed cases of the virus is rising daily and currently stands at 800,000 globally. Approximately, 40,000 people have died of the disease to date. Health systems are buckling under precedented strain.
Despite closed borders, insufficient resources, families separated or stranded, loved ones lost, and others in enforced isolation, health workers continue to show up for work. Stories of ingenuity, dedication and resilience reach the headlines every day, detailing the efforts of the people working tirelessly to heal those struck down by the virus and protect others.
Nurses walk long distances in the Philippines to reach hospitals where public transport is grounded. Medical student doctors and nurses in Europe are fast-tracked into critical care environments with scarce resources and unprecedented needs. Staff work back-to-back shifts. Many are obliged to do so without necessary protective clothing and unable to get tested themselves.
In Iran, where a large number of the health workforce is women, many have not seen their families for weeks. And, several European countries have now expressed a willingness to allow migrants with suitable medical training, who cannot or are unable to work in their new homes, to assist with the emergency response.
According to the World Health Organization, there has been a 60 per cent rise over the last decade in the number of migrant health workers, like Dr. El Tayar, in countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the United Kingdom, just over one in eight health workers is a migrant. In the United States, 29 per cent of all physicians and 38 per cent of home health aides are foreign born.
As Covid-19 continues to spread, organizations and governments are urgently scaling up responses to protect the most vulnerable, the millions of people living in disaster-stricken environments where living conditions are already fragile, impoverished, overcrowded and unsanitary. Measures to contain the virus like social distancing, stockpiling provisions, sanitisation and ‘working from home’ are largely impossible for the majority of people living below the poverty line.
The World Bank and World Health Organization estimate about half the global population does not have access to adequate health care. These are the people to whom the virus would bring untold destruction.
In these challenging times, when public support and attention is focused on courageous health professionals responding to this emergency, we are reminded of the vital and selfless contributions migrants, like Dr. El Tayar, are making in the fight against Covid-19 and to provide health care to those in need across the world.