Thanking volunteers delivering health services and crisis response

IVD2020: Together we can through volunteering

"Around the world, volunteers have been assisting vulnerable groups, correcting misinformation, educating children, providing essential services to the elderly and supporting frontline health workers [...] I appeal to all governments to promote volunteering, support volunteer efforts and recognize volunteer contributions [...] Volunteers deserve our heartfelt thanks." --UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his IVD message

Author: Bery Kandji, UNV Communications, West and Central Africa

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The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme quickly adapted to respond to the urgent needs of the local population and positioned volunteers at the heart of the UN system's integrated response plan.

Together with UN entities, we deployed UN Volunteers to bolster county-level healthcare systems. Over the past few months, volunteers have been on the frontline, as health officers, nurses, medical doctors, psychologists and laboratory technicians, to provide services and support to those in need. 

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In Kenya, a total of 50 UN Volunteer health professionals have been deployed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a joint UN COVID-19 Response Programme with UN Women and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The volunteers can bring a range of skills and experience that is urgently needed in the fight against COVID-19 at the county level. --Walid Badawi, UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya

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UN Volunteers have also been providing support in various roles – such as technical expertise in healthcare, public information, general administration or financial and personnel management – with the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the East Mediterranean, based in Egypt. Some 64 UN Volunteers serving with the WHO East Mediterranean Regional Office this year have contributed to the overall preparedness of the organization to respond to the pandemic.

Photo: In Bangladesh, UN Volunteers support refugees in Cox's Bazar in the areas of education, water and sanitation, health care, research, nutrition, child care and gender. ©UNV, 2020
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In Yemen, a total of 57 national UN Volunteers, including 17 medical doctors and 35 nurses, have been deployed with the UN system to ensure sufficient healthcare is provided to UN humanitarians serving there; thus ensuring they continue to deliver much-needed assistance to vulnerable populations in the war-torn country.

Volunteers are supporting response and service delivery, acting against the direct threat posed by COVID-19 and wider challenges in a significant outpouring of solidarity.

Photo: Maryam Al-Omaissi, UN Volunteer Emergency Nurse, serving at the UN clinic in Sana’a, Yemen. ©UNV, 2020
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It is also important to limit the spread of the virus and prevent multiplier effects. As well as providing rapid medical responses, raising awareness and supporting local communities with the information needed to understand and act have been critical in managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Video: In Bangladesh, UN Volunteer Urmi Das serves with the Infrastructure Unit of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). She supports designing and monitoring the construction of Isolation treatment centers, improving existing health care and ambulance disinfection centres in Cox's Bazar.

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The COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan of WHO identifies community volunteers as key stakeholders for risk communication and community engagement. This indicates the value and recognition WHO attributes to volunteers in crises like the current one.  

In West and Central Africa, 146 UN Community Volunteers have engaged in awareness campaigns on preventive measures in Mali, Cameroon or Congo, where UN Volunteers partnered with France Volontaires and the RAVSI platform on the Mask4All initiative.

Photo: Volunteers distributing 2,500 masks to vulnerable people in Brazzaville, including the elderly, pregnant women and persons with disabilities. ©UNV, 2020
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Volunteers helped to combat fake news and demystify social and cultural myths around COVID-19 within communities. They also ensured continuity of services, using innovative means in times of social distancing.

UN Volunteer Polina Lipostad (Russian Federation) serves with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and is contributing to developing the U-Report platform, a global virtual instrument for monitoring and collecting youth and adolescent feedback on health and wellbeing issues, lately related to COVID-19.

Recently, UNICEF launched a virtual chatbot to provide speedy answers to questions youth may have about COVID-19, and raise their awareness of the harmful effects of fake news, myths and associated stigma.

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In 2020, UNV and WHO launched the Africa Women Health Champions initiative to promote health and boost gender equity across 47 African countries by deploying 100 UN Volunteers.

Salawu Oluwatoyin (Nigeria) was deployed to Ethiopiia to support country emergency preparedness and international health regulation. "Overcoming COVID-19 infection reinforced my decision to volunteer," she shares. 

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The spirit of volunteerism has been significant in tackling the most pressing issues at local levels, amidst the pandemic. Bárbara Tineo Toro and Solana Simao, two UN Expert Volunteers serving with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Venezuela have supported and coordinated the delivery of 2,600 Dignity Kits containing hygiene and sanitary items for women and girls of reproductive age in Apure and Bolívar. The kits have gone to adolescents and women who have returned to Venezuela from other countries and are in quarantine in temporary shelters known as PASI (Puntos de Asistencia y Control Integral). 

Photo: UN Volunteers delivering Dignity Kits ©UNV, 2020
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Volunteering has come in many forms during the pandemic: local, community helpers, first responders and activists. Some 896 UN Volunteers have been mobilized worldwide to support UN entities on the public health crisis response. As we move into the recovery phase, our community will again call on the volunteer workforce to ensure we have a strong economic and social recovery.  Let’s pay tribute to their efforts despite all the challenges at hand.  

Thank you, volunteers for your constant commitment. Together we can end the pandemic through volunteering!

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