Why women health workers make COVID-19 vaccination possible

By: 
CARE
 A man receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Bangladesh
A woman health worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination in Gazipur, Bangladesh

Vaccines are useless without delivery systems that depend on women frontline health workers.

This is the key finding of a new CARE report, Our Best Shot: Women frontline health workers in other countries are keeping you safe from COVID-19. The report shows:

  • 70% of frontline health workers – the ones who get vaccine jabs into people’s arms – are women.
  • Women frontline workers help build trust, educate patients, protect rights, help everyone access vaccines and services, and actually deliver those vaccines and services – yet HALF of women health workers are UNPAID and unrecognised.

The report is calling for global leaders and governments to protect, pay, and value women frontline health workers in order to ensure fast and fair vaccine delivery to at risk and underserved communities.

According to the report, investing in equitable global vaccine distribution will save twice as many lives when compared to only focusing on high-income countries.

With the right investment, here are three ways women can make COVID-19 vaccine access a reality:

1. Women frontline health workers are helping other women overcome barriers in accessing health care.

In Bihar, India, when women health workers got involved in planning vaccine campaigns and working with communities to improve uptake, vaccination rates jumped from 12% to 84% within a decade.

In Benin, women health workers have been able to combine vaccination and family planning services to build trust, dispel myths and misconceptions, and improve vaccine acceptance.

Women frontline health workers create solutions to the many gender-specific barriers to accessing health care, such as needing permission from husbands, or not being able to visit male doctors. These challenges have only worsened during COVID-19, where women are twice as likely as men to have lost access to health services.

2. Women frontline health workers are serving the most at-risk and remote populations.

Of the millions of semi-formal and informal health workers around the world who serve patients in the final stages of vaccine delivery, more than 70% are women. They are risking their lives to get vaccines, services, and supplies to the most underserved and at-risk populations in the world.

While working amid the pandemic, Karunya Devi, a social worker in India, says she is in “constant fear” of her health and safety. She says:

I continue anyway. If not for me and the many of us reaching out, there are families who will not have anyone to help them during this crisis. Nothing can stop me.

Despite this, women are chronically underpaid, undervalued, and often work in unsafe conditions without resources and support. Much of the work by women healthcare workers is unpaid and unrecognised. When they do get paid, they make 28% less than their male counterparts, according to the report.

3. Women healthcare workers are helping people overcome vaccine hesitancy.

A global study shows that nearly 3 in 10 people are hesitant to take vaccines. Public mistrust could undermine the global effort to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

To overcome this, it’s essential to invest education campaigns. While evidence shows that most of the people working directly with patients are women, the gender gap in healthcare leadership is alarming. Only 25% of global health leaders are women, and the figure is only 5% for women in low and middle-income countries.

Tania, a COVID-19 frontline worker in Sierra Leone, says women in healthcare are often not equipped with resources. She says:

People always tell me, ‘But we have a lot of female nurses.’ Yes, but they’re nurses. They’re not the ones… making the decisions on what to procure, they’re not the ones making decisions on who to hire.

You need to have women at every level, but they also need to be empowered to be able to do their jobs. They need to be respected, their views and opinions, but also, you need to give them resources.

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