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Health professional: «All health needs are critical when hospitals are bombed»

Nurse, lecturer and researcher Olga Gershuni (37) is born and raised in Kyiv. She fears that there will be a persistent shortage of healthcare personnel in Ukraine.

Olga Gershuni (Photo: Private)

Olga Gershuni has lived and worked in the Netherlands for several years. As soon as she saw the call from Health Tech Without Borders for volunteer health workers, she signed up.

«I signed up immediately when I saw the post on LinkedIn. I am a Ukrainian who has lived abroad for many years, and I wanted to find ways to contribute, at least remotely. I have experience as a paramedic, surgery assistant, registered nurse and now as an educator. But first of all, Ukraine is my homeland and it is my intrinsic motivation to help.»

Gershuni is employed at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven, where she is a lecturer and researcher in the nursing programme. Additionally, she holds a research position at Maastricht University, where she is finalizing her PhD about public health workforce.

Her concern is that many health workers have fled Ukraine due to the war. It increases the burden on an already vulnerable healthcare system.

«More than half of healthcare employees in Ukraine are women, and many of them were forced to flee for survival to other countries. As we can't estimate when it will be safe to return and if there will be a willingness, I expect there will be a massive shortage of healthcare professionals and thus an expertise crisis,» she says.

A medical coordination centre in Lviv, Ukraine. (Image: Depositphotos)

She believes that telehealth solutions can be used by Ukrainian medical specialists located in countries other than Ukraine. They can support the healthcare system from distance and still assess the effectiveness of any intervention.

Left traumatised

She is particularly concerned about the growing numbers of victims of violence, rape and psychological terror.

«Many people have experienced or witnessed terrifying, damaging events. For those who have survived, the adeqaute support will require comprehensive strategies to cope and start feeling safe again and the recovery process can be lengthy. We need to find ways to support local hospitals and health workers so they can help people in need. It is crucial to share expertise and assist the health workers in creating tailored therapy and support.»

She says there is a range of questions to be answered. For example, how do a telehealth consulting professional help a patient receive their prescription medicins outside of Ukraine? Also, how will health personnel deal with the need for (digital) health literacy?

The healthcare system in Ukraine has struggled with a lack of resources for decades, according to Gershuni. Some measures have been put in place to try to fill the gaps in the health sector, but it is not enough to handle all the needs. Ukraine, before the war, was a county with high usage of online services. It's difficult to predict how the health services will function after the war, as now everybody is in their survival mode.

«We must now work to alleviate the pains of the citizens. It is important to understand the needs and perspectives and then link them to the available services and expertise. Speaking the language and understanding the context, values and needs is essential as it forms meaningful relationships. The foundation provided by Health Tech Without Borders makes it possible to have an ongoing and dynamic process, where we must use active listening, flexibility and cooperation,» she says.

«In what ways can the international medical community help more – or in better ways?»

«International collaboration and support are essential. Professional skills might be comparable but addressed differently in the Ukrainian context. We will need the realization that it is a lengthy process. Because of different health systems and approaches, we need to develop a workable structure, so the efforts will align with the context. Although we depend a lot on various algorithms, our shared nationality is the human being,» she says.



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