Seven moments that mattered in 2020

Published 23rd December 2020

Whatever your experience of COVID-19 has been, it’s undeniable that we and the world we live in have been altered irrevocably.

What hasn’t changed is Doctors of the World’s determination to ensure universal and equitable access to healthcare, both at home and abroad.

As we begin a new year, the pandemic continues to hit the most vulnerable in our society hardest.

Health and social inequalities have widened. New barriers to healthcare have emerged, with the rapid shift to online healthcare leaving those without the means to access it cut off from vital care and support.

Our staff, volunteers and supporters have consistently risen to these challenges, working tirelessly to ensure Doctors of the World can continue to help people in vulnerable circumstances get medical care and advice.

Here are seven moments that mattered in 2020.

1. Adapting our UK services to COVID-19

COVID-19 has challenged all of us to think differently about the way we live and work. It has also forced Doctors of the World to rethink the way we deliver our services.

In March 2020, as the UK went into lockdown for the first time, we moved quickly to adapt the east London clinic and helpline to a fully remote, national service.

DOTW’s Remote Consulting and New Projects Lead, Amardeep Kamboz, remembers the “most extraordinary” team collaboration during those trying times.

“Those first weeks were very, very challenging while we found our feet and dealt with a myriad of adjustments in our own lives,” she said. “But by six weeks in we were established, systematic and responsive, and as always offering the best services we could, and advocating for what mattered for those left most vulnerable.

“It was amazing to witness what we were achieving week by week and to be able to support our service users in such difficult times.”

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we continue to offer medical care and advice through remote GP consultations and a national helpline, which is open from 10am-12pm Monday-Friday.

2. Overcoming language barriers with translated health information

The UK is a multilingual society. In England and Wales over four million people speak a main language other than English with 864,000 speaking little to no English.

To stop the spread of COVID-19 and end this pandemic, it is essential that everyone receives accurate information about the virus and public health measures in place.

When the country went into lockdown in March, it quickly became clear to Doctors of the World that many communities didn’t have access to this vital information in their language.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been working with our partners to translate UK-wide coronavirus guidance into over 60 languages. These translated resources have been accessed over 59,000 times.

We also joined with other 20 local authorities, public health bodies and non-profit organisations to call on the UK government to produce and maintain accessible COVID-19 guidance in languages that reflect our multilingual communities.

Thanks to our partners and supporters, we’ve continued to expand our translated resources. These now include information on a wide range of health topics in a variety of formats and in up to 61 languages.

All our translated resources are available to download and share for free.

3. Highlighting the pandemic’s impact on the most vulnerable

In April, Doctors of the World carried out a rapid assessment of the circumstances and needs of communities excluded from healthcare services during the pandemic.

Working with service providers and people with lived experience, our researchers looked at COVID-19’s effect on a wide range of groups: refugees; people seeking asylum, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; undocumented migrants, including survivors of trafficking; people in and recently released from immigration detention; people experiencing homelessness; Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; sex workers; and people recently released from prison.

The key findings from Doctors of the World’s COVID-19 Rapid Needs Assessment.

They found COVID-19 and UK control measures had amplified existing inequalities and created additional barriers, further reducing these groups’ access to healthcare and services.

Sadly, many of these problems continue to persist, nine months into the UK’s COVID-19 response and seven months since the release of our Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA).

The RNA makes 12 recommendations for the UK government, the NHS, local authorities, charities, and health service providers on how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on these communities.

4. Helping excluded groups to access healthcare

In 2019, we launched the Mobile Clinic, a purpose-built vehicle that provides everything a GP or nurse might need for primary care consultations, as well as a private space for caseworkers to provide in-depth support to our patients.

When COVID-19 arrived and the van became too risky, our Mobile Clinic Coordinator Dr Durga Sivasathiaseelan donned PPE and hit the streets to deliver medical outreach to people experiencing homelessness in London.

St Mungo’s outreach coordinator, Eddie, and DOTW’s mobile clinic coordinator, Durga, during an outreach session in the City of London in 2020.

In June, we secured new funding from the City of London Corporation to continue this vital work for another 12 months.

In 2020, we also ran a four-week pilot project focused on improving access to healthcare for Traveller communities camped in the London Borough of Enfield and started supporting asylum seekers living in Home Office accommodation, where healthcare access is typically very poor.

We’ll continue to adapt our services to where the need is greatest.

5. Responding to emergencies

Crises didn’t stop for COVID-19 and in some countries Doctors of the World was responding to multiple health emergencies.

In 2020, the Doctors of the World network launched emergency responses to support those affected by the Beirut explosion and the fires in Moria refugee camp, which left thousands in need of medical and humanitarian assistance.

We also supported the global COVID-19 response both at home and abroad.

In July, our expert teams were fighting the pandemic in 67 countries, working to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable.

We were also able to adapt many of our existing health programmes to COVID-19, to continue supporting excluded communities and ensuring access to healthcare.

6. Cheering on Dr Nikki in the virtual London Marathon

As a non-profit organisation that doesn’t receive any funding from the UK Government, we rely on donations and community fundraising to keep our clinics and helpline running.

COVID-19 disrupted many events in 2020, including the 40th annual London Marathon. Undeterred, our London Marathon participant Dr Nikki Kanani signed up for the virtual event.

She also pledged to walk 60 miles – double the distance of the world-famous event – from her London home to Greenham Common in Newbury, where her dad spent six months in a refugee camp.

Dr Nikki Kanani (centre) with her support walkers at the start of her 60-mile walk from London to Newbury in October. Photo: Kimberley Vlasic/Doctors of the World UK

Nikki’s dad was one of 55,000 Ugandan Asians forced to flee the persecution of the country’s military dictatorship, arriving in the UK as a refugee in 1972.

“He arrived at a time which feels similar to now in some ways – toxic and divisive,” Nikki, who is a GP and NHS England’s Director of Primary Care, said in the lead up to her walk. “But I believe we can show what we are really made of, by supporting those who support others.”

On the weekend of Nikki’s walk, conditions were less than ideal. But Nikki and her supporters powered through the wind and rain to complete the 60-mile walk and her virtual London Marathon.

She raised an incredible £14,000 for Doctors of the World, which will help us to provide life-saving care and advice to refugees and other vulnerable communities over the coming year.

7. Launching the Hands Up for Our Health campaign

Our vision is a world where barriers to healthcare have been overcome, where healthcare is acknowledged as a fundamental right.

In 2020, we moved one step closer to achieving our vision with the launch of the Hands Up for Our Health campaign.

Hands Up for Our Health is a coalition of organisations fighting for everyone in the UK to have the chance to access healthcare, during COVID-19 and beyond.

We have three asks for the UK government:

  1. Suspend NHS charging during the pandemic
  2. Investigate the impact of charging on patient and public health
  3. Improve access to all NHS services

Hands Up for Our Health has grown to include over 60 organisations and hundreds of individuals.

Together, we will continue to call for better health for all.

For many of us, 2020 has been a difficult year and one we’d prefer to forget. But it has also shown the strength of the human spirit and what we can achieve we all come together.

Doctors of the World greatly appreciates the kindness and compassion shown by people like you over the past year.

It is thanks to this support that we’ve been able to adapt and respond to the pandemic, and to continue helping vulnerable people to access healthcare. People like Mary, a pregnant service user we supported in 2020.

“There are not enough words to say how thankful me and my husband are… I cannot imagine what would have happened to me without Doctors of the World, especially when I was looking for a hospital. Also, regarding my emotional stress and the problems I have experienced.

“I will never forget how much you have helped me and the baby. I hope you will help more people like us in the future.”


With your support, Doctors of the World will make sure nobody suffers or dies due to lack of access to healthcare.