Background: This study aimed to document the evolution of perceptions of frontline healthcare workers (FHCW) regarding their well-being and the quality of health systems' response to the COVID-19 pandemic over four months in Pakistan. Methods: We conducted this prospective longitudinal qualitative study during the four months (June–September 2020) coinciding with the peak and trough of the first wave of Pakistan's COVID-19 pandemic. We approached frontline healthcare workers (physicians and nurses) working in emergency departments (ED) in two hospitals using the WhatsApp group of the Pakistan Society of Emergency Physicians (PSEM). Participants were asked to self-record their perception of their wellness and their level of satisfaction with the quality of their hospitals' response to the pandemic. We transcribed, translated, and analysed manually using MAXQDA 2020 software and conducted the thematic analysis to identify themes and sub-themes. Results: We invited approximately 200 FHCWs associated with PSEM to participate in the study. Of the 61 who agreed to participate, 27 completed the study. A total of 149 audio recordings were received and transcribed. Three themes and eight sub-themes have emerged from the data. The themes were individual-level challenges, health system-level challenges, and hope for the future. Sub-themes for individual-level challenges were: fear of getting or transmitting infection, feeling demotivated and unappreciated, disappointment due to people’s lack of compliance with COVID-19 protocols, physical exhaustion, and fatigue. For the healthcare system, sub-themes were: Infrastructure, logistics, management, and communications response of the hospital/healthcare system and financial stressors. For sub-themes under hope for the future were the improved disease knowledge and vaccine development. The overall perceptions and experiences of FHCWs evolved from fear, grief, and negativity to hope and positivity as the curve of COVID-19 went down. Conclusion: This study shows that the individuals and systems were not prepared to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings highlight the challenges faced by individuals and health systems during the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The healthcare workers were emotionally and physically taxed, while the health systems were overwhelmed by COVID-19. The overall perceptions of FHCWs evolved with time and became negative to positive as the curve of COVID-19 went down during the first wave of COVID-19 in Pakistan.
- Frontline healthcare workers
- Health system-level challenges
- Hope for the future
- Individual-level challenges
- Prospective longitudinal qualitative study