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14 Inspiring Women Who Took On COVID-19 – & Won

Sadhbh O'Sullivan
·7-min read

The world today is incomprehensibly different from that of International Women's Day 2020. The pandemic has wrought havoc on how women everywhere live, from the economic impact to the higher rates of domestic violence to the burden of domestic care which has landed disproportionately on women's shoulders. Even our sex lives have taken a hit.

But the pandemic has also shown time and time again the strength of women's contributions in areas in which they are still underrepresented. From political leadership to STEM to grassroots community organising, women are stepping up to fight coronavirus. And in more ways than one, that fight has prevented the pandemic and the death toll from being much, much worse.

It's fitting, then, that the theme for this year's International Women's Day is Choose To Challenge. Women everywhere stood up and challenged the incoming tide of a global pandemic and worked to make sure as few people as possible were caught in its wake.

Ahead we take a look at just some of the genuinely inspiring women around the world who have worked to save people's lives this past year. We would be in a far worse place without them.

<h2>Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand<br></h2><br>As the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her country's response to the pandemic – both for managing to keep NZ largely COVID-free and for doing so with compassion for the people she governs. By acting early with lockdown orders and aiming to eliminate the virus completely, she's one of the world leaders who has led more people than ever to look at how and why women seem to be doing better <a href="https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/women-leaders-covid-jacinda-ardern.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:in the crisis" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">in the crisis</a>. <span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.</span>

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand


As the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her country's response to the pandemic – both for managing to keep NZ largely COVID-free and for doing so with compassion for the people she governs. By acting early with lockdown orders and aiming to eliminate the virus completely, she's one of the world leaders who has led more people than ever to look at how and why women seem to be doing better in the crisis. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.
<h2>Professor Sarah Gilbert, UK</h2><br>Sarah Gilbert is professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford and the cofounder of <a href="https://www.vaccitech.co.uk/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Vaccitech" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Vaccitech</a>. She designed the highly effective Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for use in the UK in December 2020. At the time of writing, nearly <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/27/nearly-20m-receive-first-dose-of-covid-vaccine-in-the-uk" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:20 million people" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">20 million people</a> in the UK have had their first dose of the vaccine, and COVID infections are going down in <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-56041029" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:all UK nations" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">all UK nations</a>.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of John Lawrence/Shutterstock.</span>

Professor Sarah Gilbert, UK


Sarah Gilbert is professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford and the cofounder of Vaccitech. She designed the highly effective Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for use in the UK in December 2020. At the time of writing, nearly 20 million people in the UK have had their first dose of the vaccine, and COVID infections are going down in all UK nations.Photo Courtesy of John Lawrence/Shutterstock.
<h2>Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, UK</h2><br>Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is a sickle cell and thalassaemia nurse who has devoted much of her life to closing the health inequality gap for Black and minority ethnic communities. In the last year she has been a key figure in highlighting the disproportionate impact of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/10/elizabeth-anionwu-the-cool-black-and-exceptional-nurse-who-fought-to-make-the-nhs-fairer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:COVID-19 on BAME communities" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">COVID-19 on BAME communities</a>, especially among <a href="https://www.rcn.org.uk/magazines/bulletin/2020/june/in-conversation-with-dame-elizabeth-anionwu" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:nursing communities" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">nursing communities</a>.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.</span>

Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, UK


Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is a sickle cell and thalassaemia nurse who has devoted much of her life to closing the health inequality gap for Black and minority ethnic communities. In the last year she has been a key figure in highlighting the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, especially among nursing communities.Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.
<h2>Dr Jeong Eun-kyeong, South Korea<br></h2><br>Dr Jeong Eun-kyeong is commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) in South Korea. She has been described as a "virus-hunter" for the way she has led her country's response to the pandemic, holding daily briefings to release transparent updates on the number of <a href="https://time.com/5800901/coronavirus-map/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:confirmed cases" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">confirmed cases</a>, the origins of infections and the latest figures on tests, quarantine and treatment. As a result, South Korea is seen as a global leader in its response to the pandemic: so far the country has recorded 91,240 cases of COVID-19, with only 1,619 deaths.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.</span>

Dr Jeong Eun-kyeong, South Korea


Dr Jeong Eun-kyeong is commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) in South Korea. She has been described as a "virus-hunter" for the way she has led her country's response to the pandemic, holding daily briefings to release transparent updates on the number of confirmed cases, the origins of infections and the latest figures on tests, quarantine and treatment. As a result, South Korea is seen as a global leader in its response to the pandemic: so far the country has recorded 91,240 cases of COVID-19, with only 1,619 deaths.Photo Courtesy of YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.
<h2>Dr Nisreen Alwan, UK</h2><br>While we still have a lot to learn about COVID, we know even less about the long-term effects of the disease. Dr Nisreen Alwan is a public health expert and associate professor at the University of Southampton who has been leading the charge for better research and public knowledge about <a href="https://refinery29.com/en-gb/long-covid-symptoms-recovery" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:long COVID" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">long COVID</a>, looking into symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, breathlessness and chest pain. She has been key in pushing countries to look into the long-term impacts of the disease, which could aid recovery in the long run.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Dr Nisreen Alwan.</span>

Dr Nisreen Alwan, UK


While we still have a lot to learn about COVID, we know even less about the long-term effects of the disease. Dr Nisreen Alwan is a public health expert and associate professor at the University of Southampton who has been leading the charge for better research and public knowledge about long COVID, looking into symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, breathlessness and chest pain. She has been key in pushing countries to look into the long-term impacts of the disease, which could aid recovery in the long run.Photo Courtesy of Dr Nisreen Alwan.
<h2>The Afghan Girls Robotics Team, Afghanistan</h2><br>The Afghan Girls Robotics Team is not just one but a team of 15 women who <a href="https://features.unicef.org/teen-girl-activist/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:developed a low-cost, lightweight ventilator" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">developed a low-cost, lightweight ventilator</a> using locally available, secondhand car parts. The team is an initiative of the Digital Citizens Fund. They began developing the machine after the first COVID-19 case was reported in her home province of Herat in Afghanistan. The team are planning to show their design to the country's Ministry of Public Health. If the prototype is approved, it could be used in remote hospitals. Pictured here are five of the team members Elham Mansori, Ayda Hayderpoor, Somaya Faruqi, Florence Pooya<br>and Diana Wahabzadeh.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of the Digital Citizen Fund</span>

The Afghan Girls Robotics Team, Afghanistan


The Afghan Girls Robotics Team is not just one but a team of 15 women who developed a low-cost, lightweight ventilator using locally available, secondhand car parts. The team is an initiative of the Digital Citizens Fund. They began developing the machine after the first COVID-19 case was reported in her home province of Herat in Afghanistan. The team are planning to show their design to the country's Ministry of Public Health. If the prototype is approved, it could be used in remote hospitals. Pictured here are five of the team members Elham Mansori, Ayda Hayderpoor, Somaya Faruqi, Florence Pooya
and Diana Wahabzadeh.Photo Courtesy of the Digital Citizen Fund
<h2>Lauren Gardner, USA</h2><br>Lauren Gardner is an engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University in the US who led the team that built the indispensable COVID-19 pandemic tracker. The <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:free and open website" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">free and open website</a> has become the authoritative source of COVID-19 case data internationally with reliable, independent data reported in near-real time.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.</span>

Lauren Gardner, USA


Lauren Gardner is an engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University in the US who led the team that built the indispensable COVID-19 pandemic tracker. The free and open website has become the authoritative source of COVID-19 case data internationally with reliable, independent data reported in near-real time.Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.
<h2>Susana Raffalli, Venezuela</h2><br>Susana Raffalli is a nutritionist who has worked on maintaining food services for low-income citizens, women with HIV and youth prisons during the pandemic. Working with the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, Susana also advised on bringing nutrition into the mainstream during national responses to the pandemic across Central America.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.</span>

Susana Raffalli, Venezuela


Susana Raffalli is a nutritionist who has worked on maintaining food services for low-income citizens, women with HIV and youth prisons during the pandemic. Working with the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, Susana also advised on bringing nutrition into the mainstream during national responses to the pandemic across Central America.Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.
<h2>Ramida Juengpaisal, Thailand</h2><br>Ramida Juengpaisal and her colleagues at web design firm 5Lab in Bangkok, Thailand, <a href="https://covidtracker.5lab.co/en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:built a tracker of COVID-19 cases" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">built a tracker of COVID-19 cases</a>, giving the city’s 10 million residents up-to-date news and information about the pandemic and helping to stop the spread of misinformation. There have been 26,000 cases of COVID-19 in Thailand, with an average of around 130 new cases a week.<span class="copyright">Photo by Deachawat Sriolankul.</span>

Ramida Juengpaisal, Thailand


Ramida Juengpaisal and her colleagues at web design firm 5Lab in Bangkok, Thailand, built a tracker of COVID-19 cases, giving the city’s 10 million residents up-to-date news and information about the pandemic and helping to stop the spread of misinformation. There have been 26,000 cases of COVID-19 in Thailand, with an average of around 130 new cases a week.Photo by Deachawat Sriolankul.
<h2>Dr Özlem Türeci, Germany</h2><br>Dr Özlem Türeci is another key player in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Together with her husband Dr Uğur Şahin, Dr Türeci cofounded biotechnology company BioNTech in Germany in 2008. In 2020, BioNTech and pharmaceutical firm Pfizer developed the <a href="https://time.com/5927342/mrna-covid-vaccine/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=editorial&utm_term=_&linkId=108864999" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:first approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">first approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19</a>. The vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate.<span class="copyright">Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.</span>

Dr Özlem Türeci, Germany


Dr Özlem Türeci is another key player in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Together with her husband Dr Uğur Şahin, Dr Türeci cofounded biotechnology company BioNTech in Germany in 2008. In 2020, BioNTech and pharmaceutical firm Pfizer developed the first approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine has a 95% efficacy rate.Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

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