On World Humanitarian Day, WHO Recognizes Women at the Forefront of Humanitarian Work

Lack of access to essential health services is one of the biggest challenges for people living in emergency settings. Limited freedom of movement due to insecurity, disrupted medical supplies and shortages of medical personnel make humanitarian response in such areas especially challenging. Despite this, humanitarian workers keep providing life-saving services, taking care of the sick, preventing diseases and promoting healthy lifestyles.

World Humanitarian Day is dedicated to recognizing the work of humanitarian personnel and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. This year, WHO highlights the special contribution of women humanitarians and their tireless work to bring health and hope to those living in conflict.

In protracted emergencies, such as the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria and eastern Ukraine, as well as the refugee health response in Turkey, community-based health-care services ensure that essential help reaches those most in need. However, despite the predominant participation of women in community health-care delivery, their participation as frontline responders is not always recognized.

“Recognizing the vital contribution of all those who make up the community-based health workforce is essential for better local and national emergency preparedness. These women, unsung heroes, deserve to be celebrated,” says Dorit Nitzan, Acting Regional Emergency Director at WHO/Europe.

An estimated 4 million people are currently living in the north-western part of the Syria, which after 8 years of war is the one of the worst-affected regions. Civilians face daily bombardments and other forms of violence. Health facilities are frequently the focus of attacks.

To ensure that people receive essential care, WHO has strengthened the training of community health workers. “Five years ago, we did not know what community health workers were supposed to do. With WHO, we developed our skills and now I am training and supervising new community health workers,” explains Helama Ali, a supervisor of community health workers in Idleb.

WHO and health partners have been developing the community health worker programme by introducing a standardized curriculum, developing appropriate educational and awareness-raising materials, and establishing an effective screening and referral system.

Helama explains, “I’m a proud humanitarian. Women are the best for this job because we are accepted in peoples’ homes. This access allows me to help and protect them from diseases and ensure they receive the care they need. Being in direct contact with the community is the most rewarding part of my job and why I stopped being a midwife in a health facility. I encourage all women to do this job, even if it is very dangerous in our area.”


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