ILO/WHO partnership to protect health workers

Healthcare workers urgently need upgraded working conditions, safety and health protection against COVID-19 in Ukraine

Health workers are at the forefront of the global fight against the COVID-19. In Ukraine, however, they face serious challenges in occupational health and safety and working conditions. On 16 April 2021, the ILO and WHO jointly organized a webinar to discuss the key challenges health workers face and to advocate for the implementation of a national occupational health and safety programme.

News | 05 May 2021
© AFP/Europress
During the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers are particularly vulnerable due to their exposure to the virus, as well as to the physical and mental distress their heavy workloads generate. While health workers represent less than 3% of the global population, around 14% of COVID-19 cases occurred among them.
In Ukraine, the health sector employs 735,000 workers, of whom 83% are women. As of mid-April 2021, 78,919 cases of COVID-19 infection were reported among workers of health institutions, of which 708 died.
 “Health workers have to use a single disposable mask for several days, although these masks are not made to be used for more than two hours.”

A doctor commenting on the lack of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in a village in Eastern Ukraine, October 2020.

In Ukraine, there is a need for urgent action to protect the health, safety and well-being of health workers, who are playing a vital role in saving people’s lives in the current pandemic. This predicament requires a comprehensive set of measures including effective infection prevention and control at the workplace, work organization and the implementation of adequate occupational safety and health management systems.  In addition, healthcare workers need the provision of mental health and psychosocial support and protective equipment.

The ILO, in collaboration with partner UN organizations in Ukraine, is supporting the government and social partners in addressing the special vulnerability of health workers and mobilizing the necessary efforts.

The EU-ILO Project “Towards safe, healthy and declared work in Ukraine”  and WHO jointly organized a webinar “COVID-19: occupational health and safety for health workers”  on 16 April 2021, to discuss the key challenges and responses of Ukrainian health workers.  The goal of the effort was to  advocate for the formulation and implementation of a national OSH programme for health workers, and to promote the practical use of the recent WHO-ILO Interim guidance “COVID-19: Occupational health and safety for health workers" (also available in Albanian, Serbian, Macedonian, Romanian and Ukrainian).

The seminar brought together a panel of international occupational health experts from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, and over 500 participants, including health professionals, government representatives, and representatives of national and regional health workers' organizations and health sector employers.

Health workers in Ukraine also face challenges in working conditions. In its Briefing note published in February 2021, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission points out that health workers in the country are underpaid (although the temporary bonuses introduced by the Government have partly remedied the situation) and suffer from increased workloads. In addition, the burden of unpaid care work and the time consuming procedure for inquiry and recognition of a case of infection as a work-related accident, are preventing health workers to their right to social security and effective social dialogue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to protect health workers not only in Ukraine but also globally. Countries should significantly increase their investments in the health sector in order to improve the working conditions for health workers in occupational safety and health, social security and wages.