Supporting Ukraine during World Health Worker Week

By Joy Kemp, RCM Global Professional Advisor Midwives NHS Pregnancy Maternity Safety

World Health Worker Week and World Health Day, on 7 April, provide an opportunity to celebrate frontline health workers, to elevate voices, roles, and needs while advocating for increased support for health workers worldwide. The theme set by the World Health Organization (WHO) is Build the Health Workforce Back Better, positioning health workers as key to preventing future pandemics and recognising that, for too long, health workers have been taken for granted.

‘Building back’ suggests that the crisis has passed and that things are getting back to normal. However, this is far from the truth for health workers in Ukraine. As of 4 April, WHO’s surveillance system on attacks on health care has recorded at least 85 such attacks in Ukraine since Russia started the war on 24 February. UN agencies and others have called for an immediate cessation of such attacks, which are deemed war crimes under international law. Sadly though, accountability for such violence – in Ukraine and elsewhere – is rare.  More than 4 million people have now fled Ukraine and a further 6.5 million have been displaced internally within the country.  The majority of these are women and children who have an urgent need for humanitarian assistance and health care services.

In the face of such devastation, it is natural that we want to respond, to do something. What is imperative, though, is that, in doing so, we do no harm and that our response is appropriate and relevant. Collecting medical equipment or other goods and trucking them across borders can seem appropriate but humanitarian organisations advise against such donations as they can destroy local markets and stretch local logistical capacity to breaking point. Cash is now the primary way of delivering aid and the RCM is encouraging its members to give money to the Red Cross, the DEC appeal or to the International Trade Union Confederation Appeal. They have teams, local partners and logistics systems on the ground and can ensure that donations get to where they are most needed. The RCM has made its own donations to each of these organisations too. 

The RCM has set up both internal and external working groups to ensure that our response to the crisis is appropriate and relevant. We communicate regularly with partners in the UK and across Europe and have updated our position statement and resources for members caring for vulnerable migrant women.

During World Health Worker Week, the RCM adds its voice to those calling for an immediate cessation of all attacks on health care in Ukraine and in other areas of conflict around the world. We stand in solidarity with midwives, maternity teams and health care workers who, in the most challenging circumstances, strive to provide care for women and their families and we call on policy makers to ensure that the rights of women and children are upheld in conflict. We also call on the UK Government to suspend charging for NHS maternity care for migrant women and their newborns with immediate effect.