EHS-COVID (476) Q3 What have we learned to better support health workers? (2)

25 November, 2021

Dear HIFA colleagues,

As Jackeline Alger (HIFA Country Representative COordinator for the Americas) said last week on HIFA: "The best way to honor all health workers who died during the pandemic is to contribute to improving a weakened and underserved health system."

Perhaps the most important part of such health system strengthening is that which directly supports the physical and emotional health of health workers. I invite you to review this Action Brief from the Health Services Learning Hub at the World Health Organization. (The Hub has already published two action briefs based on HIFA thematic discussions thi syear.) You can review all the briefs here:

In the current discussion we ask: "A health service is only as good as the people who work within it. Health workers have been under extraordinary pressures for several months on end. What have we learned and how can we better support health workers going forward?"


A large scale virtual support intervention for health care workers

Gareth Kantor et al. South Africa

Extracts below. Read in full:

Key Learning Themes

• Virtual collaborative learning spaces that are psychologically safe can be rapidly assembled to address workforce issues at a time of crisis.

• Adapt areas of focus to context – e.g. in South Africa, account for important role of unions power in the health care workforce.

• Senior level buy-in and endorsement.

• Seek partnerships for sustainability of work started in an emergency (e.g. Universities in health systems strengthening).

• Virtual designs may need to incorporate more traditional/formal network learning approaches (e.g. BTS) to transition from participatory learning to improvement actions, and improved outcomes.


#StaffCare was initiated by IHI in May 2020 to support a South African Provincial Government's efforts to protect and support health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative built off a national guideline that was issued to help protect health workers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and existing leadership training and virtual convening efforts by the Western Cape Department of Health (30,000 employees serving over 6m people)...

A “sense-making framework” (see the figure below) focused the activities of #StaffCare into 3 streams:

• Effective leadership communication and behaviours.

• Tactics and tools to protect health workers from COVID-19.

• Ways to support the well-being of workers during COVID-19...

Health system strengthening through leadership, learning and improvement (QI) capability is core to ensuring employee wellbeing. A collaborative alliance of connected partners such as universities and NGOs can support public health and government systems. Strong macro and meso level governance capability is needed to maintain the focus on staff safety and wellbeing.


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,