Original Research

Experiences on the frontline: Qualitative accounts of South African healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Angela Kazadi, Jennifer Watermeyer, Sahba Besharati
Health SA Gesondheid | Vol 29 | a2339 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hsag.v29i0.2339 | © 2024 Angela Kazadi, Jennifer Watermeyer, Sahba Besharati | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 January 2023 | Published: 15 March 2024

About the author(s)

Angela Kazadi, Department of Psychology, School of Human and Community Development, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Jennifer Watermeyer, Health Communication Research Unit, School of Human and Community Development, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Sahba Besharati, Department of Psychology, School of Human and Community Development, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted people’s mental health significantly. Frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) were arguably most affected, particularly in low-to-middle-income countries like South Africa. Understanding their experiences is important to inform interventions for social and psychological support for future pandemics.

Aim: This study explored the experiences of frontline HCWs in South Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Setting: The sample included HCWs from various professions and health sectors who worked with COVID-19 patients across South Africa.

Methods: An exploratory descriptive qualitative design was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 frontline HCWs recruited via purposive sampling. Data were analysed using principles of inductive thematic analysis.

Results: Four major themes were identified in the data: (1) Working during COVID-19 was an emotional rollercoaster; (2) Working during COVID-19 was physically and mentally exhausting; (3) Participants held negative attitudes towards the Department of Health; and (4) COVID-19 had a transformative impact on the daily life of HCWs.

Conclusion: HCWs’ experiences were diverse and marked by contradictions. Limited psychological support and resources aggravated experiences. However, a positive narrative of hope and gratitude also resonated with participants. Qualitative methodologies provided depth and insights into the diverse realities of frontline HCWs.

Contribution: This study provides significant insights into the experiences of a diverse group of frontline South African HCWs during COVID-19. It demonstrates a shift in the definition of a ‘frontline’ HCW and highlights the need for greater psychological support and individualised public health interventions during future pandemics.


Keywords

COVID-19; healthcare worker; mental health; qualitative; low-to-middle income country; lived-experience; South Africa

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

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