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 Monday 13 July 2009
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SOUTH AFRICA: Health worker burnout

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/PlusNews
"When I get home I'm so demoralized"
JOHANNESBURG, 6 July 2009 (PlusNews) - The burned-out health worker with the bad attitude has long been regarded as the patient's worst nightmare, and linked to everything from high teen pregnancy rates to poor patient tracking in South Africa.

The Aurum Institute, a medical non-profit organization based in Johannesburg, brought health workers in the HIV and AIDS field together this week to talk about the emotional and physical toll of heavy workloads, resource constraints and poor patient outcomes.

The low-down on feeling down

Aurum's training manager, Robin Hamilton, a psychologist with 20 years of experience in HIV/AIDS, said health workers bore an unforgiving and perhaps unrecognized burden.

"It's the human cost of the HIV pandemic," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "You have to deal with serious illness, high mortality, seeing patients get sick and die - that takes an emotional toll on many health workers."

Mo Sinclair is an HIV and AIDS counsellor who struggles to leave her work at the office after she knocks off. "In the middle of the night I wake up and I'm still doing stats in my sleep. I can't switch it off, I want an 'off-button'," she said.

"If I were an accountant I would get stressed about money, and that's not an emotional investment; if I were an accountant, maybe I'd get stressed once a month, [but] for us, it just goes on and on."

Health workers said they often experienced physical and emotional fallout from demanding jobs, suffering everything from headaches, upset stomachs and insomnia to an unhappiness that affected more than just their relationships with patients.

"When I get home I'm so demoralized," said Lungile Rabinda, another counsellor. "Whatever the kids do that is wrong, I relate it to those difficult patients. I put this on to them, and it's very unfair."

Getting health workers back on an even keel

Hamilton said the ideal way of solving health worker burnout is to get them to talk about their feelings with professionals, but Winnie Madiga has found a novel way of coping: she treats herself to a getaway weekend once a year.

"I will a book myself into a hotel and stay there for the whole weekend - it would be me, myself and I. That time is mine, and I reflect on what has been going on in my life and what I can do to change it," she said.

"The challenge is balance," Hamilton said. "We need to be managing ourselves better. It's important to think about that and not what we want management to do or how we want the system to change."


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Health & Nutrition, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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