Members of a Community Health Nursing Team in Roseau, Dominica According to the World Health Organisation at least 115,000 health and care workers globally may have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS
By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2021 (IPS)
One hundred and thirty countries have signed a statement recognising the efforts of health care workers, first responders and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic – “one of the greatest global challenges in the history of the United Nations”.
The statement affirms their support for the World Health Organisation’s declaration of 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers.
On Tuesday, the nations launched their statement before the UN General Assembly.
“Our appreciation for health and care workers cannot begin and end with the pandemic,” said Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly.
“Each and every day, millions of nurses, midwives, doctors, researchers, emergency medical technicians and more, provide us with the support needed to live healthier lives. Whether in prevention or treatment, the entirety of our healthcare system is built upon the shoulders of the women and men who work tirelessly to provide us with relief in our times of need,” he said.
The joint statement was proposed by the permanent missions of Brazil, Georgia, Japan, the Republic of South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.
“We recognise the efforts made by health workers in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, through measures to protect the health, safety and well-being of people and express our support to all continuous work emphasising the importance of providing all health and care workers with the necessary protection and support,” it stated.
It also calls on signatories to ensure that health and care workforces are fully protected and equipped to deliver health care at all times. It singled out workers at the forefront of the pandemic response and states that they must be offered priority access to vaccination against COVID-19.
One of the country’s that ensured these workers were prioritised in vaccine access was Saint Lucia.
“Our vaccination plan was set it out in a phased approach and in the first phase, we were looking at the persons who were at highest risk like our health care workers, our first responders, our essential care workers, elderly homes and our elderly caregivers, alongside people over 65 and those with chronic diseases,” the country’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George told IPS.
A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, Belmar-George says the country’s health and care workers’ commitment on the frontlines is unwavering.
“We remain focused as our public health teams and stakeholders strive to keep everyone safe,” she said.
Like health teams across the globe, those in Saint Lucia have embarked on vaccination drives. For the country’s health and care workers, a successful vaccination campaign is key to reopening the country’s tourism-dependent economy. The most recent statistics from the Caribbean Public Health Agency show that 27.6 percent of those eligible for the COVID-19 shot have been vaccinated.
“For us in Saint Lucia our 3 main risks for community spread are the tourists coming in, our returning nationals and the illegal entry from neighbouring Martinique. It’s extremely important for us to try to get 70 percent of our population vaccinated. That’s the goal we are working towards as we try to open up,” Belmar-George told IPS. “We are dedicated to our vaccination drive and embarking on targeted interventions. We are working.”
Director-General of the World Health Organisation Dr. Tedros Adhanom told Tuesday’s General Assembly that according to the organisation’s estimates, at least 115,000 health and care workers may have lost their lives during the pandemic.
“The health and care workforce has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic and far too many have felt the brunt of its impact. Infections among health and care workers have been widespread and many have suffered from anxiety, fatigue and occupation burnout,” he said.
With its theme “Protect. Invest. Together,” he warned that it is time to ensure that these essential workers are adequately compensated for their work, that they have access to continuing education, career advancement opportunities and safe working conditions.
The statement urges countries to prioritise investment in resilient health infrastructure and health systems in their COVID-19 recovery plans and ensure that this aligns with the 2030 Agenda for good health and wellbeing.
It further states that member countries are “deeply concerned” that the world’s health and care workers are experiencing anxiety, distress, occupational burnout, stigma, physical and psychological violence.
It expressed unease over a shortage of health and care professionals in many developing countries, a situation that threatens health systems.
With a challenge to draft a global health and care worker compact to protect those who protected the world during COVID-19, it hopes to recognise the courage, care and commitment of health and care workers across the globe and guarantee that their contribution to society is always appreciated.
The countries signed a statement in support of the 2021 International Year of Health and Care Workers. The statement was launched at an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.