Women & Public HealthWomen in Global Health: Providing Actionable Insights to Healthcare Providers

Published 5 November 2021

Women make up 70 percent of the healthcare workforce. After almost 2 years of pandemic-driven challenges, women healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response are facing burnout, are leaving the healthcare workforce, and are shifting to part-time work.

Roopa Dhatt is an internist, professor at Georgetown University, and the executive director of Women in Global Health (WGH). WGH is a 501(c)(3) organization with a network of over 35,000 supporters in over 90 countries with more than 40 chapters that aim to achieve gender equality in global health leadership. 

Norma Magallanes, associate editor of the Global Health News Wire, spoke with Roopa Dhatt.

Norma Magallanes: Following the COVID-19 pandemic, female healthcare workers are considering leaving their positions in healthcare at higher rates than men. How can we avoid losing the talent and expertise women bring to healthcare?
Roopa Dhatt:
 Our health systems are designed by men for men, but women make up 70 percent of the healthcare workforce. The pandemic has magnified gender inequities, unequal access to healthcare services, and a serious healthcare worker shortage. 

Women have faced an increased burden of unpaid work and caregiving responsibilities for children and extended family members. There are also greater demands for healthcare workers, including longer shifts and an increased patient load. Additionally, most personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed for the male body and is oversized for female healthcare workers which further exposes them to infection. Most healthcare workers at the bedside are women and they are disproportionately facing abuse from patients and visitors who refuse to wear masks, refuse vaccinations, and express their frustration with the handling of the pandemic. Healthcare workers are also facing mental stress but there is no support for healthcare worker’s psychosocial mental health needs in the workplace. Too often healthcare workers are told to build resilience, but resilience is not solely an internal process, it is also influenced by the work environment. There is also unpaid work in the healthcare sector. The community health worker (CHW) cadre, which many countries depend on for the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, education, and other essential services is a volunteer or stipend-based role.