Thursday 21 May 2015 | GENEVA – A reception organized by the Global Health Workforce Alliance and the WHO Health Workforce Department in collaboration with Polio and Emergencies Cluster was held during the 68th World Health Assembly to honour the memory and legacy of health workers who lost their lives on duty during the recent Ebola outbreak, as well as in other circumstances such as the polio vaccination campaigns or chronic complex emergencies.
During the Ebola Special Session of the 136th World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board (25 January), the United States delegation has invited the WHO Executive Board to consider the installation of a memorial in honour of the health workers who have died fighting Ebola for unveiling during the 68th World Health Assembly in May 2015.
In parallel, the United Nations General Assembly, in Resolution A69/L.35 on Global Health and Foreign Policy, resolved to strengthen international efforts to ensure the safety, protection, productivity and efficiency of health personnel. It urges Member States to promote the safety and protection of health personnel and to collect and report data on obstruction, threats and physical attacks on health workers. It further requested the Director-General to work with the UNSG to submit a report which compiles and analyses the experiences of Member States.
Attended by some 250 delegates, including Member States delegates; diplomatic missions, WHO Senior staff and the Director-General, an impressive lineup of panelists made passionate remarks on the crucial contribution of health workers towards global health, outlining their heroic work.
Dr Marie Paule-Kieny Assistant Director-General in Health Systems and Innovation Cluster, WHO welcomed the guests and outlined the critical role of health workers. She reminded us that providing universal health coverage along with access to quality health care services requires a focused approach on investment in human resources for health. Health worker protection and support must be at the core of our efforts to build a resilient health system.
Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Regional Director of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, EMRO addressed the issue of health personnel in protracted countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Sudan. He reminded us that while National Governments have the responsibility of ensuring safe and secure access to health services and strengthening accountability for attacks on health – health worker protection is a collective responsibility. Dr Doris Schopper, an Assembly member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, highlighted the role of ICRC and its partners in the Ebola response as well as ICRC’s work in protecting health personnel and ensuring the delivery of impartial and efficient health care in armed conflict and other emergencies. Dr Mitsuhiro Ushio, Assistant Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan, and also GHWA’s Executive Board Chair, explained the vital role of the health personnel in countries that are affected by natural disasters. Dr Walter Gwenigale, Minister of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia, gave an emotional and passionate remarks of the Ebola situation on the ground. He introduced, Dr Kent Brantly an Ebola survivor and used this opportunity to thank him and all health workers that contributed to end the spread of the virus in Liberia. Dr Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, USAID, gave remarks on behalf of USAID and international responders to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Dr Bruce Aylward concluded the series of presentations detailing the numbers of health workers that have lost their lives on duty and spoke to the heroism of health workers. He also emphasized WHOs role in health worker protection, as well as its work on documenting attacks and strengthening accountability mechanisms. Dr Kent Brantly, Dr Chan and Dr Gbanya (infection specialist in Liberia) were invited to light a candle in memory to celebrate the lives of health workers.