To ascertain whether and how working as a partnership of two World Health Organization collaborating centres (WHOCCs), based respectively in the Global North and Global South, can add insights on “what works to protect healthcare workers (HCWs) during a pandemic, in what contexts, using what mechanism, to achieve what outcome”.
A realist synthesis of seven projects in this research program was carried out to characterize context (C) (including researcher positionality), mechanism (M) (including service relationships) and outcome (O) in each project. An assessment was then conducted of the role of the WHOCC partnership in each study and overall.
The research found that lower-resourced countries with higher economic disparity, including South Africa, incurred greater occupational health risk and had less acceptable measures to protect HCWs at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic than higher- income more-equal counterpart countries. It showed that rigorously adopting occupational health measures can indeed protect the healthcare workforce; training and preventive initiatives can reduce workplace stress; information systems are valued; and HCWs most at-risk (including care aides in the Canadian setting) can be readily identified to trigger adoption of protective actions. The C-M-O analysis showed that various ways of working through a WHOCC partnership not only enabled knowledge sharing, but allowed for triangulating results and, ultimately, initiatives for worker protection.
The value of an international partnership on a North-South axis especially lies in providing contextualized global evidence regarding protecting HCWs as a pandemic emerges, particularly with bi-directional cross-jurisdiction participation by researchers working with practitioners.