The face of that frontline health worker so often talked about is mostly that of a woman, the World Health Organization’s Europe regional head said on Thursday, noting that more than 7 out of 10 global health and health facility service workers are females.

“In this region, 84% of nurses and 53% of physicians are women,” said Hans Kluge at a virtual news conference.

“It’s International Women’s Day on Monday, and I want to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on issues that affect women and one of the biggest employment sectors of women, globally and regionally: the health and social care workforce,” said Kluge.

Not a single country in the European region had achieved gender equality before the pandemic. COVID-19 had since aggravated and shone a light on underlying structural gender inequalities, said the WHO official.

“We have long known that emergencies have a disproportionate effect on women’s health – and COVID-19 is no exception, where confirmed cases are more common in females and young adults.

He noted that health workers account for 8% of global COVID-19 cases, and the risk they run of getting infected is more than triple the risk of most of humanity, the ones they are trying to protect.

“Five weeks ago, out of the 1.3 million health workers that had been infected with COVID-19, 68% were women.

“We must do everything in our means to protect our frontline. It is fundamental, an obligation of every government, to assure vaccination of the health and social workforce,” said Kluge.

Last week, he said new cases of COVID-19 in Europe rose 9% to just above 1 million.

The rising number brought a promising six-week decline in new cases to an end, with more than half of the region seeing increasing numbers of new infections.

“We are seeing a resurgence in central and eastern Europe. New cases are also on the rise in several western European countries, where rates were already high.

“Continued strain on our hospitals and health workers is being met with acts of medical solidarity between European neighbors. Nonetheless, over a year into the pandemic, our health systems should not be in this situation,” said the WHO regional head.

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