More than £20,000 has been raised to support families of Filipino health and care staff who died while working in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fundraisers from across the globe have walked, run and exercised a combined total of 11,000 kilometres – the distance between the UK and the Philippines – to symbolise the final journey home of those who had lost their lives.
Money raised from the initiative will be given to the RCN Foundation’s Covid-19 Support Fund to help bereaved families of Filipino nurses and other health professionals who worked in the UK.
In recent weeks, concerns have been raised about a disproportionate number of deaths among Filipino health and care workers in the UK, with some estimates placing the figure at more than 50.
A Public Health England review also revealed that the proportion of Covid-19 infections in the nursing workforce was highest among Asian ethnic groups and the risk of dying from the virus was higher in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups than in white ethnic groups.
The high death rates among Filipino nurses in the UK during the pandemic is now a concern that is being discussed at an international level, as reported previously by Nursing Times.
After seeing the disproportionate effect Covid-19 was having on Filipino health workers in the UK, campaign director Bianca Hanbury-Morris (pictured above) wanted to help bereaved families and so started the fundraising initiative.
The campaign is called Balik Bayani and is inspired by the Tagalog words ‘balikbayan’, which refers to a Filipino countryman or woman who has returned home from working abroad and ‘bayani’ meaning hero.
Ms Hanbury-Morris, who is half-British and half-Filipino, told Nursing Times that the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on Filipino health workers had “hit close to home” and so she decided to start fundraising with her friends.
After reaching out to people on social media, the campaign then expanded to more than 100 people worldwide.
“A lot of Filipino’s go away to work, away from their families, so I knew instantly that as soon as this pandemic hit that there would be a lot of Filipino’s on the front line,” Ms Hanbury-Morris told Nursing Times.
“So, as soon as news started to come out in the UK, all these news reels of healthcare workers dying on the front line… I started to take a tally, and thought ‘this was a big number of Filipino’s and sounds disproportionate’.”
She said she had thought about the families who had been left behind as “in many, if not all” of the cases where a Filipino health worker had died, “they were the breadwinners sending money home”.
Trying to find an innovative and inclusive way to raise money for the cause while much of the globe was on lockdown, Ms Hanbury-Morris explained how the idea to exercise 11,000 kilometres worth of distance came about.
“I knew instantly as soon as this pandemic hit there would be a lot of Filipino’s on the frontline”
“These people that died on the front line are mostly away from home, so I calculated the distance between the UK and the Philippines – that’s 11,000 kilometres,” she said.
“So, we thought why don’t we symbolically travel, [meaning] exercise, walk, run the distance collectively from the UK to the Philippines and bring these fallen home from the journey they couldn’t make themselves for the final time.”
Those involved in the fundraising initiative included people from the Philippines, UK, Canada, Singapore, Italy, Australia and the US.
From swimming in Sydney off Bondi beach, to NHS staff doing exercises after night shifts, to one man who did 10,000 squats in Cirencester, the team has now completed its goal distance and has raised more than £20,000.
Deepa Korea, the RCN Foundation’s director, said: “The Balik Bayani initiative recognises the dedicated Filipino frontline health and social care workers who have died from Covid-19, whilst working to keep communities safe.
“We are very grateful for donations to the RCN Foundation Covid-19 Support Fund, which will offer practical support to the families in the UK left behind, at this most difficult time.”