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Health and safety during COVID-19: training for health workers in south-eastern Europe

27 September 2022 │ News release

More than 1600 health professionals across south-eastern Europe have been trained in occupational health and safety in the context of COVID-19 through a project supported by WHO/Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic placed a heavy burden on health workers, and safeguarding their health while sustaining the COVID-19 response is critical.

The project was implemented through the South-East European Network on Workers’ Health (SEENWH), which gathers experts in the field of occupational health. SEENWH is coordinated by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health at the Institute of Occupational Health of the Republic of North Macedonia in Skopje. The results of the project are now documented in a new publication that includes key lessons learned.

The project was entitled “Actions to strengthen resilience of health workers in south-eastern Europe in response to COVID-19 and beyond: implementation of WHO/ILO guidance and mapping of priority needs for occupational health and safety programmes for health workers”.

Its primary objective was to promote the dissemination and uptake of the WHO/International Labour Organization (ILO) guidance on occupational health and safety for health workers. It focused on strengthening the capacities of health workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Türkiye.

Building resilient health systems

From October to December 2021, the project delivered a series of courses adapted to national circumstances in local languages, along with communication materials. It contributed to increasing the resilience of health workers in participating countries in response to COVID-19 as well as new and emerging risks. It also promoted the adoption of WHO/ILO guidance and identified the need for further national occupational health and safety programmes for health workers.

The training series enabled the exchange of experiences in addressing the multiple demands faced by COVID-19, and strengthened professional networks that enable the sharing of good practices at the subregional level.

The new publication provides an overview of the training activities implemented in the 7 countries involved in the project. It includes brief reports from the training courses, key messages and lessons learned, and possible next steps. The publication also highlights that occupational health and safety for health workers needs to be a priority, as emphasized by the pandemic.

Healthy and safe health workers are a prerequisite for well functioning and resilient health systems and good-quality health care. The development and implementation of national programmes on the health and safety of all health workers can ensure that national occupational health and safety legislation is applied, and that policies are tailored to the needs of the health sector.

The project activities contribute to the implementation of the WHO Roadmap for Health and Well-Being in the Western Balkans (2021–2025). In addition, they showcase the value of a well established platform such as SEENWH for sharing knowledge and facilitating collaboration among occupational health professionals in south-eastern Europe.