World Stroke Day event, Palais des Nations, 26 October 2023 © Communication Service archives

The story of a stroke
The powerful link between inclusion and sustainable employability
1 Dec 2023

An interview with the new Chief Medical Officer at UNOG, Dr. Gloria Dal Forno and Medical Officer at UNOG, Dr. Elizabeth Kubbinga, provides an overview on stroke, its impact on daily life and its prevention, as part of addressing and promoting Sustainable Development Goal 3: Health and well-being.

Dr. Gloria Dal Forno, as a neurologist, why do you think that stroke is such an important subject to talk about and to create awareness of?

As a neurologist and as the new Chief Medical Officer at UNOG, I want to underline how stroke is a major health issue both for all our staff and worldwide. It is the second leading cause of death, the third cause of disability, and one in four people can suffer a a stroke during their lifetime. All this is very relevant for the UNOG occupational medical service.

We manage programs on stroke risk factors, related to both lifestyle (excessive weight, physical inactivity, tobacco, alcohol, etc.), as well as medical risk factors (hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, genetic vulnerabilities, etc.).

We also deal directly with the effects of the disability caused by a stroke, the impact on work life, and how to reintegrate colleagues back into the workplace after they have suffered a cerebrovascular accident. There is a lot that has been achieved for people living in the aftermath of a stroke, but also a lot more to do. 

Can a stroke be prevented or its damage limited?

On a positive note, strokes need not happen. Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes and control of medical risk factors, as already mentioned.

In addition, if one develops signs and symptoms of a stroke, it is very important to act immediately, since early intervention can dramatically change the final outcome. For these reasons, there are campaigns aimed at educating the general public at recognizing a stroke in a timely fashion. The FAST test, as described in the 26 October Stroke Conference, helps the early recognition of a stroke in order to arrange immediate help and treatment.

FAST acronym used to easily identify a person suffering from a stroke © Overture Home Care

Dr. Elizabeth Kubbinga, as an occupational health physician, why did you organize this event to help people in the workplace after they have suffered a stroke?

As an occupational physician, I am a promoter of health at work. Therefore, together with our colleagues, I organized this event with the contribution of Louis and Elise, two young people affected by strokes. They are excellent examples of how proper rehabilitation programs and tailor-made adjustments in the workplace may render a person affected by a stroke able to function well at work. This is a perfect example of disability inclusion.

According to WHO, 15% of the global population has a disability. As part of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy and UNOG action plan, could you please tell us how the Medical Service can promote the inclusion and a sustainable return to work for persons with disabilities?

We see staff members on a daily basis who, during their career, develop either temporary or long-term impairments due to an illness or accident. We perform workplace assessments and discuss the individual needs of staff members so we can recommend adjustments and regular follow-ups to ensure sustainable employability. Through this approach, we help to keep them included in our workforce.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting persons with disabilities back to work successfully?

Full understanding of the specific needs of each staff member, often in collaboration with the treating specialist, is paramount. In fact, each case of stroke can present differently, needing a diverse range of adjustments. We also analyze the specific job requirements, matching our recommendations to mitigate the impairments of the staff member with respect to the demands in the workplace.

The hardest challenge is to have the recommendations implemented, which is why we need to collaborate with supervisors, Human Resources, facility management, and others when needed. For the implementation phase, we need everyone on board to make the workplace adjustments successful.

* Catherine Fegli is a UNOG Public Information Assistant and Dominique Vanzo is a UNOG Senior Nurse.
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