Psychological Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Frontline Health Workers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Harv Public Health Rev (Camb). 2020 Fall:28:


Healthcare systems in many countries have been overwhelmed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with increasing demands to contain and respond to the virus. The result has been increased pressure on frontline health workers. As the pandemic unfolds, the impact on health systems in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) is becoming apparent. In lower resource settings, the detrimental effects on frontline health workers will likely be significant due to fragmented infrastructure, low compensation, and significant shortages of necessary resources such as personal protective equipment. These high stress conditions, coupled with risk of infection and fears and anxieties among patients, can result in grave psychosocial consequences for frontline health workers, who play a vital role in delivering the bulk of primary care services in LMICs. In this narrative review, we consider the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline health workers in LMICs. We describe the important role of frontline health workers, summarize existing literature on burnout and risks to mental health in this essential workforce, and consider how public health emergencies exacerbate these concerns to showcase their vulnerability to mental health impacts of COVID-19. We explore emerging research on the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health workers and consider possible approaches to mitigate these consequences. This review draws from existing studies and emerging evidence to highlight the critical need to consider the wellbeing of frontline health workers, and to address these challenges as health systems respond to the pandemic.