Hurricanes, economic uncertainty, social strife and a global pandemic have made 2020 a year no one will ever forget. But through it all, as the world grappled with the greatest health crisis of our time, millions of frontline health workers stood tall as beacons of bravery and hope.
Health workers are heroes to those in their care. As the rest of the world has stayed home, gathering only outdoors and maintaining a safe distance to avoid the deadly COVID-19 virus, health workers have courageously remained 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 a new report, 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. “With the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases, it is getting worse by the day and health care workers aren’t getting a reprieve. 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.”
We must also remember that the health workers who ensure the survival of children and families in the world's toughest places are especially vulnerable. Because they never stop, UNICEF has been able to meet the needs of 2.8 billion people around the world in 2020. But they need our help, and thanks to the ongoing training and tools UNICEF and partners like J&J provide, they will get the support they need to 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."
In a year when health workers are making unprecedented sacrifices, UNICEF and J&J have teamed up to strengthen 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, Philippines, Liberia, Serbia, Croatia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Indonesia.
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J&J and UNICEF's prioritizing 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 four 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 COVID-19'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
The 30 percent drop in immunization coverage due to COVID-19 means Lena now works even harder. But the pandemic, along with a diphtheria outbreak in the area last year, 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 Health Worker Buddy, the app will enable health workers to connect with their supervisors or call centers wherever they are, 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. By year's end, J&J and UNICEF will launch 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 faced alarming rates of COVID-19 infections, 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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