On March 19, 2021, THET UK partnered with the African Center for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST) and Esther Alliance to host the second conference on COVID-19 Partnerships.
The conference was held under the theme: “COVID-19 Partnerships in the International Year of Health and Care Workers: Protect. Invest. Together.” This is in line with the World Health Organization year-long campaign to recognize health workers for their dedication and resilience in fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Participants had the opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved by the Health Partnership community since the first conference in April 2021; and looked into the future, recognising the immense pressure that is now falling on health workers in every country. With the worrying increases in infections and the slow pace of vaccination campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa observed since the start of 2021 the conference discussed afresh at how the Health Partnership community is pulling together, especially now, when solidarity is more important than ever.
In his opening remarks, THET Director Ben Simms said: “We are here to celebrate but we also here to express our urgency and our anger. 2021 is not the same as 2020. We will never look at the world in the same way. We have been reminded about inequality, racism, about the underfunding of health services; and the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt. We need to argue that every health worker has the right to be properly equipped and supported. That every health worker, as every citizen, has the right to be vaccinated. We meet with humility.”
The virtual conference had 412 people from 44 countries across the globe participating. It also had 16 sessions and 48 speakers on wellness and compassion, advocacy, health systems strengthening, and COVID-19 response among others.
Advocacy in an era of COVID-19
This session explored the role individual health workers can play in advocating for change, including the challenge of overcoming 'anti-science' positions in communities and nations. ACHEST Executive Director Prof. Francis Omaswa was a panelist on this session. He expressed concern about the increased disinformation spread both through social media such as Whatsapp; as well as some politicians who give dissenting views.
He said: “We are challenged right now with handling information; misinformation, correct information. And when some of our leaders are not supporting health workers in getting the correct information out there, so that the public is together with health workers, based on the actual information, then the life of health workers becomes very complicated. We are challenged with issues of alternative factors versus real/actual facts. In this type of scenario, the health workers are in a dilemma. They themselves have to find out what the facts are. And then on top of that, they have to manage a community/public that is battling issues of what is true and not true.”
Prof. Omaswa referred to an example of the head of state in Africa who took a line that COVID-19 doesn’t exist in his country. “How do we deal with situations like that at global level, national level and down to community level? What about other heads of state? What has been their role? I am looking at health workers and other professionals such as lawyers. How do we speak truth to power so that it is possible for health workers to be able to do their job based on real facts not alternative facts and innuendo.,” asked Prof. Omaswa.
He reiterated that the triangle which moves mountains is about: People , Knowledge generators (or researchers) and politicians
Prof. Omaswa explained thus: “ the theory is that If knowledge generators worked closely with the people or communities to understand their needs of the people; and together the knowledge generators with the communities go to the politicians to say ‘look, friends these are the solutions,’ the politicians would have no choice to implement those solutions, if they are backed and demanded by the population.”
The session explored psychological well-being from an individual, facility/ ward, organizational and societal aspect. It discussed what is needed to build a compassionate culture that will support and sustain psychological wellbeing and improve the quality of care; how health workers can be more intentional about self-care / self-compassion while striving to be responsive and to show compassion to others; and how health systems and society can create the culture necessary to support and sustain psychological wellbeing.
ACHEST Director of Health Systems, Dr. David Okello who was one of the panelists said compassion should encompass the recognition of the suffering of others and then take action to help.
“If we recognize the suffering and don’t do something about it, there is a problem,” said Dr. Okello
“Compassion embodies a tangible expression of humanity of love for those who are suffering. It also encompasses a "desire to alleviate" the distress of others. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too ,” he elaborated further.
Dr. Okello also noted that health workers are carrying a heavy burden during COVID-19 and thus called for support of their psychological wellbeing; and the need to identify risk factors for adverse mental health outcomes among them during COVID-19 outbreaks. Some of the recurrent concerns from health workers in Uganda during the pandemic include:
• Fear of infections: they have inadequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPEs), and have direct contact with Covid-19 infected patients in their places of work.
• Concerns about family: they are concerned about carrying infections from work places to their loved ones at home
• Heavy workload: those working in the high dependency and isolation units have long hours at work and taking care of very sick patients which causes emotional strain on them, physical exhaustion and are distressed and burnt-out.
• Stigma: these health workers have experience avoidance by family members and members of the community, because they are perceived to be infected already.
• They are working under pressure.
• There is often limited support from Management.
Dr. Okello emphasized the need to display greater kindness and empathy towards health workers. “This is essentially about health workforce management. Employers should love the people they lead and win their trust; feel for each other and share their pains; ensure sufficient rest, time off and provision of basic tools. Build leadership capacity and awareness among supervisors and leaders at all levels first.”
Population and community awareness to the issues faced by health workers is also important to avoid stigma.
Compiled by Carol Natukunda
For more details on COVID-19 partnerships, visit https://www.thet.org/covid-19/