The novel coronavirus pandemic has affected individuals around the world, with young people facing great challenges to their education, employment opportunities, emotional and mental health, and safety. Youth in the health and social care sectors are playing an active and vital role in the path to recovery. Despite challenges such as shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disruptions in their education, young health professionals and students are still risking their lives on the front lines.
Historically, early-career health practitioners–medical, dental, nursing, and pharmacy students–have volunteered for rebuilding efforts during earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Additionally, youth are often at the forefront of communication initiatives through public health activities and advocacy. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, young health and social care professionals have been responding with courage and resilience. It is necessary to fully recognize the role youth play in health care work and in advocacy. Thus, here are some ways youth in health and social care sectors have been responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Youth organizations representing medical and pharmacy students have been working together to raise awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Lebanon, young medical practitioners are visiting Lebanese municipalities and pharmacies as part of the Coronavirus Awareness Project to share information on virus spread, symptom recognition, and appropriate safety measures for protection. These activities are carried out by the Lebanese Pharmacy Students Association (LPSA) in collaboration with Lebanese Medical Students International Committee. They have been trained by the Lebanese Red Cross and operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Ministry of Public Health, and UNICEF.
In the United States (U.S.), pharmacy, medical and public health students from the University of North Carolina were placed into teams during a four-week rotation to address the needs of disadvantaged and rural communities during this pandemic. Together, students leveraged their expertise to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by providing wellness checks, testing for the virus, and distributing educational resources specifically for the communities they worked with.
Social media gives anyone the ability to spread misinformation online, thus it becomes crucial to identify misinformation early and share facts with the public. When faced with fake news or misinformation in their own networks, youth in health and social care sectors correct people respectfully by communicating the harms of misinformation and provide trustworthy information by collaborating with other healthcare individuals.
Dr. Hashim Hounkpatin, a 28-year-old physician in Benin, teamed up with a consortium of health-related content producers and launched a mass literacy program called Arayaa to organize a Tweetchat on keeping safe from COVID-19 and established a program to help individuals fact-check information. Their hashtag, #AgirContreCOVID19 has reached more than 90,000 participants. They have also designed a mobile app that displays trusted knowledge in local languages and allows users to interact directly with experts for help.
Many youth health organizations and individuals continue to support and advocate for front-line worker safety by spreading awareness about the importance of adequate PPE.
The International Association of Dental Students (IADS) has actively hosted webinars and social media campaigns about COVID-19 on Facebook. In partnership with IPSF, they provided tips on how to stay safe in primary care settings through a series of infographics, adding a popular hashtag, #flattenthecurve. IADS also showcased a video collaboration on Facebook in collaboration with IFMSA, IPSF, International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA), and World Healthcare Students’ Alliance (WHSA), to share information about COVID-19 impacts on economic, social, and industrial sectors, and how healthcare professionals have been tackling COVID-19.
In the U.S. Edward Aguilar, a high school senior in Georgia, saw the country struggling to supply enough PPE for health care workers. He founded a nonprofit organization, Project Paralink, which set up a supply chain of volunteers making PPE equipment for U.S. hospitals. Aguilar and his friends gathered more than a thousand volunteers to make and deliver PPE using 3D printers to health care workers all over the country. In Georgia, they have delivered more PPE than the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Recognizing the need to protect healthcare workers in general, the World Health Professions Alliance (WHPA) released a statement in March 2020 to call for the protection of healthcare workers battling coronavirus at the front lines . Along with frontline workers, the statement highlights the need for young professionals and students to be given vital personal protective equipment and psychological care.
In 2019, WHO had already estimated a projected shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030. Due to the overwhelming pressure of COVID-19, many doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, and volunteers have already lost their lives, further exacerbating the health worker shortage. To compensate, thousands of medical students have been fast-tracked to join the front lines as doctors.
In Italy, this year’s medical school graduates will be able to start working as fully-qualified doctors immediately, months ahead of schedule, while junior colleagues are being urged to volunteer. Post-graduate residents and fellows have also suspended their specialized trainings to devote themselves to general medicine and coronavirus-related cases. Contrary to notions of young people defying lockdowns and acting irresponsibly, many youth in the health and social sectors are bravely coming together to join the workforce amidst this pandemic.
As youth in health care and social sectors have evidently been essential in emergency preparedness, it is important to ensure they are also protected appropriately. Health and Safety are the basic human right for all humanity, including the young health professionals and students in practice.
To conclude, youth in the health and social care sector are central to building a strong and resilient health system. They need to be provided with adequate training and PPE to protect them, but also must be included in important policy discussions and be given a voice in issues that affect their safety and their work. We must stand by our young healthcare and social care workers in these testing times. They are the key to a better future of healthcare.
by The Global Health Workerforce Network (GHWN) Youth Hub which aims to engage and include youth-inclusive policy to drive the Human Resources for Health (HRH) agenda.
This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.