It can seem like the world has come to a halt to those who find themselves caught in the crosshairs of an emergency — be it a natural disaster like a hurricane or the outbreak of war or disease. But even as the greatest health crisis of our time, the COVID-19 pandemic, has claimed more than 3 million lives, shuttered schools and businesses and forced families to stay at home, one group of people never stopped working to protect others. They are the millions of frontline health workers who stood tall as beacons of bravery and hope.
Health workers are heroes to those in their care. Nothing has made that more clear than the COVID-19 virus, which health workers have courageously battled by choosing to remain at the epicenter of need and care. They pull double shifts, brave unknown conditions and fight for the health and well-being of the people who entrust them with their lives.
But, according to one report released when health care workers were managing skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers without reprieve, the crisis has taken a heavy toll. “Health care workers have been thrust onto the front lines, exposed to a deadly virus daily,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America (MHA), which conducted the survey with funding from Johnson & Johnson. "They are frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, burned out and worried about exposing their loved ones, nurses in particular. We need to make sure that we are taking care of health care workers so they can take care of us.”
Some of those most at risk are the health workers who ensure the survival of children and families in the world's toughest places. The more than 3 million health workers UNICEF has trained in COVID-19 infection prevention and control since the pandemic began have never stopped working to provide lifesaving services. But they need our help, and thanks to the ongoing training and tools UNICEF and partners like J&J provide, they will get that support so they can continue caring for others and for themselves.
"I have been a lifelong believer that health workers are heroes living among us, because I had proof at home," says Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee at Johnson & Johnson and UNICEF USA Board Member Joaquin Duato, who grew up with a mother who was a midwife and a grandmother, a pharmacist. "So, even before the coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks, my family’s rich history of serving on the front lines helped me appreciate all that health workers do. That’s why I am so proud of Johnson & Johnson and UNICEF’s 35-year partnership to support health workers as they provide lifesaving care for mothers and children worldwide."
Because the COVID-19 pandemic has called upon health workers to make unprecedented sacrifices, UNICEF and J&J are dedicated to strengthening the health systems that support them. From donating funds and hygiene supplies to providing psychosocial support, J&J is playing a pivotal role in UNICEF's response in India, Thailand, the Philippines, Liberia, Serbia, Croatia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Indonesia.
Here's how, together, we're caring for caregivers
J&J and UNICEF's care for the caregivers means that health workers like Lena have been able to keep going. Through UNICEF's Extended Immunization Program, supported by J&J, children in Indonesia receive vaccinations against such preventable childhood diseases as tuberculosis, measles, polio, hepatitis B and whooping cough. Lena, who works at a health center in Indonesia's heavily forested region of West Papua, has been on the ground throughout the pandemic, keeping those services running. In charge of immunization at the health center for the past seven years, Lena provides vaccinations to over 600 children in 4 villages annually.
Even in the best of times, trekking to immunize children in remote villages required dedication and strong legs. Before COVID, Lena met families at clinics nearest them twice a month. But once COVID-19 shut those locations, Lena began traveling from village to village to vaccinate children and protect them from the pandemic's potentially devastating impacts.
If we stop the immunization services, I am afraid there will be outbreaks of diseases. Therefore it is important that we continue to make sure that children are protected. — Lena, UNICEF immunization lead, Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia
A more than 30 percent drop in immunization coverage due to COVID-19 means Lena now works even harder. But the pandemic, along with a 2019 diphtheria outbreak in the area, has only stiffened her resolve: “If we stop the immunization services, I am afraid there will be outbreaks of diseases. Therefore it is important that we continue to make sure that children are protected.”
J&J and UNICEF also know that protecting health workers like Lena is just as important. That's why, in 2019, J&J established the Center for Health Worker Innovation, which is now guiding a $250 million commitment to support one million health workers through the pandemic and beyond.
"Frontline health workers are integral in healing our communities and forging the pathway to a healthier world," explains Duato. "At Johnson & Johnson, we know that if we solve the challenges facing [them], we will advance the health of everyone, everywhere.” Thanks to work underway at the new Center for Health Worker Innovation, programs are now in development that will do just that, including:
Health Worker Buddy System: UNICEF’s global digital health team is building an app with J&J’s help to make frontline health workers' jobs easier. Called the ‘HealthBuddy COVID-19,’ the multi-featured app will enable health workers to tap into a knowledge library for information on how to manage cases and connect with their supervisors or call centers wherever they are. It will also help them collect data, conduct contact tracing and report COVID-19 test results. UNICEF will pilot the multi-lingual, AI-powered chatbot in various countries, including Liberia and Indonesia.
Psychosocial support: Health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are under tremendous stress. To help ease their burden, J&J and UNICEF have created a program to make emotional support freely available to health workers along with tools they can use to assess their own mental health.
Holistic online learning: In Brazil, J&J and UNICEF are developing online courses to provide health workers with emotional support, build their resilience and teach them how to prioritize their own self-care. The courses also offer instruction in early COVID-19 detection, infection prevention and control along with COVID care best practices.
Frontline health workers are integral in healing our communities and forging the pathway to a healthier world. Now is the time to step up and help them continue on this remarkable mission and back the front line.
Despite COVID-19, these vital programs are continuing. They have already reached over 41,000 frontline health workers and almost one million mothers and children. Also planned are two new training programs in Lebanon and India to bolster the well-being and skills of health workers who provide critical care to mothers, infants and children.
“Frontline health workers are integral in healing our communities and forging the pathway to a healthier world,” says Duato. “Now is the time to step up and help them continue on this remarkable mission and back the front line.”
Top photo: India has been decimated by COVID-19, but that hasn’t kept Dr. N. J. Darshak from rounds at the primary health clinic where she works. Here, she gives Bhavna Khant and her newborn a check-up and explains the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. © UNICEF/UNI365125/Panjwani
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