Did you know 83 countries do not have enough health workers to meet the World Health Organization’s minimum standard to provide basic health services (No Health Without a Workforce, 2013)? The importance of the health workforce cannot be overstated and without concrete efforts from the international community to strengthen the frontline community of health workers, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and those health goals being outlined for the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda, will not be met.
Congressional Briefing Highlight
Recently, I attended a congressional briefing led by International Medical Corps (IMC) and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in cooperation with Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dibba F. Edwads and Representative Kristi Noem and Doris O. Matsui. The briefing, titled,“Saving Women’s and Children’s Lives; Strengthening the Health Workforce in Fragile Countries” discussed the needs of the frontline health workers today and highlighted a few examples of programs addressing these gaps successfully.
Saving Mothers, Giving Life, was one program highlighted as a model of best practice. The program is currently operating in Uganda (a fragile state) and Zambia, and is focused on maternal and child health. Saving Mothers, Giving Life pays special attention to the needs of individual health care providers by offering training and mentoring services to improve contact with patients and grow the workforce of community health workers in these cities. The program also focused on the health facilities themselves, working to improve access to health services overall. By focusing on the health workforce and the health workplace, this program has seen a 30% reduction in maternal mortality in both countries. The multitude of public and private partnerships involved has also been an innovative piece to the model of this program design worth noting. A few other “best practice models” were highlighted at this briefing, including examples from other fragile states (ie: Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan), but the resounding message from all examples was clear: the importance of individual health workers’ needs and the need for infrastructure to support their endeavors improves health outcomes for the community.
Multi-Talented Workforce Easily Overworked
Health workers are a huge asset to improving population health and they often are trained to care for a multitude of ailments (ie: maternal child health care workers can offer services for nutrition needs, routine immunizations, malaria, HIV/AIDs, TB, and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and NTD health workers distributing mass drug administration pills can also distribute malaria nets and vitamin A supplements). While this integration of health services provided by the health workforce is ideal, often times the health workforce becomes overburdened, or worse, burnt-out. A contributing factor to the overburdening of the health workforce is the chronic health workers shortage. It will be no surprise when the MDGs are not met given the current health workforce shortage, an estimated 4.2 million health workers, with 1.5 million needed in Africa alone. However, looking ahead to the UN Post-Development Agenda, increasing the health workforce significantly will be imperative to success.
Health workers are the backbone of a healthy society and without them, health goals of the international community will not be reached. While World Health Workers Week has come and gone acknowledging the backbone of a health society should be a constant effort.
Follow #healthworkerscount @MSHHealthImpact @IMC_Worldwide and @USAIDGH for more on this topic.