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Picturing Our Work: Protecting Health Workers

This blog entry was originally posted on the CapacityPlus blog.

"To the doctors and pharmacists who died, victims of their devoutness during the epidemic of 1878, Gorée." 

In this photo from Ile de Gorée, an island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, Carie Cox reminds us how health workers often sacrifice their own health or safety in order to care for their patients. In many countries, they may not have essential supplies to protect themselves, or face occupational hazards or other safety concerns. Instead of contracting yellow fever in 1878, as the statue references, they may be exposed to HIV and risk infection because they have no postexposure prophylaxis. They may contract a serious illness because they don’t have access to clean running water to wash their hands. They may travel dangerous roads at night on the way to or from the health facility. They may be targets for attack during armed conflict.

"Many tourists visit the island, as it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and serves as a memorial of the slave trade," explains Carie. The statue in the picture was one of the first stops on her guided tour of the island. “I was immediately interested in the statue because of the obvious connection with the work we do, but also because I have not seen a lot of monuments dedicated to health workers,” she remembers. “I was moved by the inscription on the statue that recognizes and honors the risks that health workers often take to care for others in times of crisis.”  

A new CapacityPlus technical brief, "Ensuring a Positive Practice Environment: Occupational Safety and Health for Health Worker Productivity, highlights the numerous hazards health workers face on the job. The authors outline ways to make health workers' safety a higher-level policy issue and how to create working environments that prioritize occupational health.

Carie traveled to Senegal to support CapacityPlus's work to develop a mobile phone application that will provide refresher trainings for health workers who deliver family planning services. Carie is working on the assessment for this activity that will examine changes in family planning knowledge and service delivery among target providers, as well as the feasibility and acceptability of interactive voice response for delivering refresher trainings.