The World Health Organization said Thursday that 80,000 to 180,000 health care workers may have been killed by Covid-19 up to May this year, insisting they must be prioritised for vaccination.
A WHO paper estimated that out of the world's 135 million health staff, "between 80,000 to 180,000 health and care workers could have died from Covid-19 in the period between January 2020 to May 2021".
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health care workers needed to be immunised against the disease first, as he slammed the global inequity in the vaccine roll-out.
"Data from 119 countries suggest that on average, two in five health and care workers globally are fully vaccinated. But of course, that average masks huge differences across regions and economic groupings."
"In Africa, less than in one in 10 health workers have been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, in most high-income countries, more than 80 percent of health workers are fully vaccinated."
He added: "We call on all countries to ensure that all health and care workers in every country are prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines, alongside other at-risk groups."
Tedros said that more than 10 months on since the first vaccines were approved by the WHO, the fact that millions of health workers still had not been vaccinated was an "indictment" on the countries and companies controlling the global supply of doses.
Annette Kennedy, president of the International Council of Nurses, said the organisation grieved for all health care workers who had lost their lives -- "many needlessly; many we could have saved".
"It's a shocking indictment of governments. It's a shocking indictment of their lack of duty of care to protect health care workers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives," she said.
Kennedy added: "They are now burnt out, they are devastated, they are physically and mentally exhausted. And there is a prediction that 10 percent of them will leave within a very short time."
The WHO wants each country to have vaccinated 40 percent of its population by the end of the year, but Tedros said 82 countries were now at risk of missing that target, chiefly through insufficient supply.
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4.9 million people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while nearly 242 million cases have been registered.