Dr. Myrna Abi Abdallah Doumit PhD, nurse and previous President of the Order of Nurses of Lebanon was recognized as a Heroine of Health at the Women in Global Health Beyond the Applause: Heroines of Health digital gala. For her extraordinary response to the August 4th explosion which ripped through Beirut’s docks.

On August 4th 2020, a massive explosion ripped through Beirut’s docks, killing 217 people and injuring thousands more. It was a disaster which called for an extraordinary response and it was Doctor Myrna Doumit, who led the nurses of Lebanon as they stepped up to the challenge – and made sure their contribution was recognized.

These same nurses were on the verge of going on strike. Often unpaid, their working conditions had long been unsafe and unsustainable – and then the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up the crisis. Lebanon’s nurses had won the support of doctors and other health professionals in taking this unprecedented stand for their rights.

But when the explosion happened the nurses – uniquely resilient after 40 years of war – came out in full force to help the injured and dying. Under Dr Doumit’s strategic leadership, nurses gave their all – sometimes their own blood, sometimes their own lives. Five nurses died and many more were seriously injured while on duty.

Dr Doumit went to every major hospital in Beirut to coordinate the response. Three major hospitals had been destroyed and the remainder were flooded with casualties. Medicines and supplies had been destroyed. Nurses were suturing wounds and providing emergency treatments on the streets.

In the aftermath of the blast Dr Doumit went on to lead Lebanon’s COVID-19 relief efforts, organizing national infection control and prevention measures, including paid leave and hotel accommodation where nurses who were infected could isolate. The Order of Nurses had trained nurses on COVID-19 before any case was recorded in the country, and as the President of the Order, Dr Doumit was involved with the national emergency committee for COVID-19 from day one.

At the same time Dr Doumit used media channels to shed light on the huge contribution made by nurses during the pandemic, engaging the people of Lebanon, empowering nurses and raising their voices. Her persistence and passion in creating strategic alliances and speaking up for nurses has not only given them much needed practical and psychological support, it has been a game changer in how nurses are perceived and valued.

As well as the Heroines of Health, gala attendees heared from Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO Honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General, UN and Lauren Moore, Vice President of Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson and entertainment comes in the form of a specially commissioned spoken word poem by award winning Kenyan spoken word artist Mumbi Macharia, who is known for her shining a light on harsh realities faced by women and girls across Africa.

Dr Doumit and her fellow distinguished Heroines of Health (below) were given a platform to discuss what they want and the solutions needed to reach global health equity, end the pandemic and address the most challenging issues facing women in global health:
 Greisy Trejo Nurse and Mental Health Champion, Panama; ensuing that more across the Americas can access mental health services, especially indigenous, migrant, LGBTQ+ people, and those who are victims of violence or have suffered the most from the onslaught of isolation
 Jane Njeri Kagwiria Kubai, Theatre Assistant Kenya; a former security guard, she is now a hospital Theatre Assistant who also educates communities and patients on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, addressing the fears and stigma associated with the disease and the COVID-19 vaccine
● Neha Mankani Midwife, Pakistan; Improving access to services for women, increased confidence and technical skills of midwife graduates, and financial support for midwife-led community services, whilst also advocating for women and midwives and the issues they face during the pandemic
● Dr. Ruth Dirbia GP, Ethiopia; leading gender mainstreaming and social inclusion work in Ethiopia, working in partnerships with the Ministry of Health to close the gender gap in digital literacy
● Dr. Vandana Gopikumar, Mental Health Champion, India; tackling the taboo of mental health and mobilizing to support vulnerable women during the COVID-19 crisis
● Ramatu Jalloh Community Health Worker, Sierra Leone; mobilized the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa, that has so far raised nearly $USD 20 million to provide over 100 million pieces of PPE to hundreds of thousands of frontline health workers worldwide

The Issue

Women health and care workers have been characterized as heroines for remaining on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic but the pandemic has shone a harsh light on the gender inequities in the health and care workforce that disadvantage women workers and at the same time, undermine health systems and global health security. At a glance:

●  Women comprise 70% of health workers but only 25% of senior roles (WHO)
●  $1.5 Trillion of women’s healthcare work is unpaid. The equivalent of the GDP of Australia (UN Women)
●  18 million more health workers are needed in low- and middle-income countries (WHO)
●  By 2030, there will be a global shortage of 40 million health workers (WHO)
●  Many women healthcare workers are considering leaving their jobs due to harassment, low pay and low status. Recent studies found 43% of nurses in US and  33% of nurses in UK are considering leaving the profession

It is time to build a new social contract for women health workers. A new report by Women In Global Health on the impact of Covid-19 on women in healthcare, out later this month (October 2021), concludes: 

It has been a punishing 2 years for health workers. The last official figure on health workers deaths from Covid is 115k but the true figure may turn out to be 500k. In addition, millions of health workers may be left with long Covid and mental trauma. Deaths and long Covid will continue to rise in lower to mid income countries (LMICs) due to lack of vaccinations (double vaccination rates are less than 1% adult population in many LMICs) leaving health at high risk. Health workers are both demoralized and angry. They have been on strike in over 90 countries. In high income countries such as the UK and Australia health workers are coming under online and physical attack from anti-vaxxers and large numbers are planning to leave the – one third of nurses in the UK (Royal College of Nursing).

The world cannot afford to lose one trained health worker.  The COVID-19 pandemic and related health crises are far from over. A new social contract is needed now to retain women in the health workforce and attract more women to fill the millions of vacant jobs in the sector.

Women want the means – decent work, safety, dignity, fair pay and equal leadership – to do their jobs better and deliver stronger health outcomes for everyone. That new social contract will form the solid foundation for vaccinating the world, saving lives now and building back better and achieving global health security.

“We all lose, when women are not leading in equal numbers. Women are sidelined in decision-making, making our health systems weaker. The pandemic has shown us that global health security depends on women. Now, more than ever, we must celebrate the achievements and leadership of women in health to elevate the status of women leaders and call on decisive action for gender equity in global health. Women in Global Health will continue to advocate for a new, gender equal social contract for women in the health and care sector until it becomes a reality.” Dr Roopa Dhatt Women in Global Health Executive Director

About Women in Global Health

Women in Global Health (WGH) is the largest network of women and allies working to challenge power and privilege for gender equity in health. Founded in 2015, it now includes over 50,000 supporters in over 90 countries with 25 official chapters. The global team and its network of chapters drive change by mobilizing a diverse group of emerging women health leaders, by advocating to existing global health leaders to commit to transform their own institutions, and by holding these leaders accountable.

Women in Global Health has a MOU with WHO to work on gender equality, specifically in the health workforce and Universal Health Coverage.  Visit the Women in Global Health’s Gender Equity Hub on Health and Social Care Workforce, co-chaired with WHO for more materials.

In July 2021  Women in Global Health, the Government of France and the World Health Organization secured historic high level commitments from the Governments of USA; Pakistan; Mexico, Liberia; Guinea-Bissau; Costa Rica as well as ILO and GAVI for their  Gender Equal Health and Care Workforce Initiative.

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