WHO trains health workers to provide quality care for gender-based violence survivors in Ukraine

WHO is strengthening Ukraine’s response to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) by building the capacity of health care workers and health care facilities to provide survivor-centred care.

With funding from the Government of Canada and support from the Ministry of Health and civil society organizations, WHO in Ukraine trained more than 60 doctors, nurses and health facility managers from the Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk and Kyiv regions on service provision for GBV survivors.

Based on WHO guidelines and national legislation on sexual and gender-based violence, the 2-day training equipped health care workers with the knowledge and skills to identify signs of violence, deliver appropriate clinical care and psychosocial support, and provide appropriate referrals to social and legal support services.

“The health sector plays a critical role in responding to gender-based violence, including physical, sexual and emotional violence, all of which can have serious consequences for physical, psychological and reproductive health,” explained Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

“Since the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine in February, there is an increased exposure of women and other population groups to sexual and gender-based violence, making prevention and response efforts even more important,” he added. “WHO is committed to supporting Ukraine in addressing gender-based violence as an urgent public health matter and ensuring that those experiencing violence receive high-quality, survivor-centred care.”

For some people, their doctor may be their only support

GBV is a widespread human rights violation with public health consequences. According to current estimates, 2 of every 3 Ukrainian women have experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence in their lifetime and 18% of women and girls aged 15–49 have experienced intimate partner violence. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence. Yet, most cases are never reported.

“Currently more than 90% of women who have experienced violence do not contact the police,” said Yefimenko Olena Volodymyrivna, Director of the Health Department of the Kyiv Oblast State Administration. “However, if medical problems arise as a result of the violence, they will seek medical attention. This is why doctors must be qualified to identify signs of violence and to provide assistance as efficiently as possible. Trainings such as this are necessary in order to build a comprehensive system of assistance to survivors in all health facilities.”

Ukraine ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, in June 2022, setting minimum standards for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of violence against women and domestic violence. The Government of Ukraine, supported by WHO, is committed to stepping up national health sector response and support mechanisms for survivors of violence.

“As family doctors, we must understand that working with gender-based violence survivors is our duty and part of our daily work,” said Svitlana Vedmid, a family doctor and medical director working in the Dnipro region and one of the training participants. “Family doctors are often the primary link to other services, such as mental health services, and they are also often the first to contact for those experiencing violence. For some people, their doctor may be their only support if something happens.”

“My motivation to support GBV survivors is empathy,” added Tetyana Volkovich, a family doctor from Pavlograd in the Dnipropetrovsk region. “A doctor should help a person as a human. And after this training we have more knowledge and tools for this. Earlier we provided information about cases of violence to our management but now we have adopted a plan on how to act independently in such cases and we have learned the numbers of mobile teams and shelters in our city.”

WHO, following recommendations in the World Health Assembly 67.15 Resolution and the Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region, continues to strengthen Ukraine’s health sector response to sexual and gender-based violence to ensure life-saving care for women, girls and other at-risk groups, including persons living with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ community and displaced persons. Together with the Ministry of Health and civil society partners, WHO plans to scale up trainings for health care providers in 8 regions as part of ongoing humanitarian response efforts.